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Aug 7, 2023
Helping kids manage back-to-school stress and anxiety
Teen girl upset at school

While the upcoming school year offers children exciting experiences and challenges, it may also cause feelings of stress and anxiety.

A recent Harris Poll found that 71% of parents with children 3 to 17 years old report their kids experienced challenges in school last year including safety concerns, academic challenges, bullying, mental health issues, and more. And as the new school year quickly approaches, it is important for parents to understand how their children feel about returning to school.

Fortunately, parents can take steps to help alleviate their children’s concerns and prepare them for their return to school. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

1. Strike up a conversation

Talk with your kids about school, beginning a week or two before it starts. Ask what they are looking forward to, such as favorite subjects, reuniting with classmates, shopping for school supplies, and updating their wardrobe. Remind them how exciting going back to school can be.

2. Validate their concerns

The end of summer may draw out a variety of feelings — including sadness, anger, fear, or confusion. Children may show signs of stress such as thumb-sucking, irritability, and sleep issues as the first day of school approaches. Depending on their age, they may not always be able to express what they are feeling, which can add frustration to their emotional state.

Talk openly with your children about what they are feeling. Acknowledge their feelings and concerns without judgment, and reassure them that those feelings are normal. Sometimes simply expressing their feelings can help children manage them better.

3. Plan a practice run

You can alleviate many back-to-school concerns by helping your children figure out what to expect, especially if they will be attending a new school. For example, you can call the school to arrange a visit so you and your child can meet the teacher, see the classrooms, and tour the building before the first day of school. If your kids will be riding a school bus, show them where it will pick them up near your home and where it will drop them off at school. Teens with a car can practice driving to school and find out where they should park.

4. Work out a schedule

Returning to a structured school routine can be challenging. Sit down with your children to put together a schedule for homework and any after-school activities. Don’t forget to include time for relaxation, playing, hobbies, and spending time with friends.

The schedule should also include early bedtimes and wake-up times so children can get ample sleep. They should begin following this part of the schedule a week or two before school begins.

5. Have realistic expectations

Children need time to fully acclimate to a new schedule, even if they are returning to a routine that worked well in previous years. You may need to provide regular reminders of what they need to do next. Try to be patient if they forget or make a mistake, and gently redirect them toward the plan your family has in place.

6. Know when to seek help

The changes associated with going to school can be tough at any age. If your child appears to be having a difficult time or is reacting in ways that concern you, such as showing signs of stress for more than a couple of weeks, consult your pediatrician or reach out to a behavioral health specialist. Check with your health plan if you need help finding the right help for your child.

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