Like it or not, it’s time to say goodbye to the carefree days of summer and say hello to a new school year. Back-to-school stress impacts children of all ages: Younger kids may experience separation anxiety, while older ones may be stressed about increased academic pressure and college applications. During times of transition, anxiety is normal, but it’s usually manageable. Deal with back-to-school stress as a family to help your kids start the school year off right.
How to Help Kids with Anxiety About Changing Schools
Your child once ruled the middle school but now they’re at the bottom of the pack as a first-year high school student. Or maybe your child is moving from a day care they’ve known for years. Changing schools can be an adjustment, but you can take measures to ease the transition.
1. Visit your child's new school together before the year starts.
Consider visiting the school in advance. Familiarizing kids with the environment can help them feel more comfortable. If possible, attend an orientation or open house, pointing out their classrooms, restrooms, water fountains, and other important places. You may even visit the school’s playground to show what recess will look like.
2. Help your child get organized.
Purchase and label supplies. Make sure you’ve submitted all required health and emergency contact forms. Stock your refrigerator with meals and snacks for the first week. Choose a first-day-of-school outfit, backpack, and lunchbox to get kids more excited about going back. The more organized and prepared you are, the calmer and less stressed you’ll all feel.
3. Read a book about going to a new school.
A story about school can help ease the jitters. Talk to your local librarian about the right book for your child. Read the tale together and ask your child to share any concerns.
4. Try to remain positive about your child changing schools.
Kids pick up on your feelings. That means if you’re nervous, sad, or worried, your kids will likely feel the same. Try not to ask leading questions (“Are you nervous about going back to school?”), which can indicate to your child that there really is something to worry about. Be happy and smile in front of your kids. Save the tears for when you’re alone.
How to Help Kids with School Anxiety About Being the New Kid
Moving to a new town is hard enough let alone being the new kid in the classroom. Fortunately, starting school at the beginning of the year should help since everyone is in a new situation.
1. Talk to your child about the new routine.
Kids often worry about the little aspects of school. They wonder who will take them to school and pick them up. Or they’re uncertain where to go once they get to school. They may question what they’ll be eating for lunch. Review the school routine with them to ease their minds.
2. Validate your child's feelings about being the new kid.
It’s important for parents to stay positive. If a child is nervous, that’s okay. Say, “I’m so proud of you for going to school.”
3. Share positive memories of your own experiences.
You were the new kid once, too. Discuss those memories and experiences with your children. Talk about friends you made or a favorite teacher, always staying upbeat and optimistic. And discuss positive aspects of your children’s school, like an amazing playground or extensive library.
4. Be on time for the first day.
Don’t stress out your children by running late on day one. Get as much as possible ready the night before, laying out clothing, backpacks, and lunchboxes so everything is set. And allow enough time in the morning to get ready—and take some first day of school pictures!—so you don’t have to rush out the door.
5. Emphasize that your child isn't alone.
Remind your kids that they’re not the only new ones at school. Even some teachers are new. Tell them that the teacher is aware of nerves and will do their best to make kids feel more comfortable.
How to Help Kids Overcome Lingering COVID Concerns
Many kids haven’t had in-person schooling for a full day since March 2020. Perhaps their school had a remote, hybrid, or half-day model. Going to school full time can seem foreign.
1. Establish open communication.
Let your child know that you’re always available to talk about anything and everything. A good time to chat is before lights out. They often open up and feel comfortable and safe right before bed. It’s when they’re getting 1-on-1 attention and feel relaxed.
2. Be present for your child.
Aim to be there for your child right before school starts and during the first few days back to help them feel more secure. If you can’t be there, ask a friend or family member to take on this role for you.
3. Plan something special to celebrate the first day.
Give them something to look forward to—like a trip for an ice cream cone or a visit to a favorite playground. That way they’ll anticipate a fun activity. You can even make it an annual tradition.
4. Emphasize the safety measures the school is following.
We can’t promise our kids that we won’t get sick, but we can express confidence in public health efforts, and that schools have done months of planning to minimize risk and keep everyone safe.
5. Encourage flexibility for last-minute changes.
We don’t know how “normal” most kids’ schools will be in the fall, and plans may be changing up to the last minute. Let your child know that the whole family will have to be flexible.
How to Help Kids with Back-to-School Anxiety About the Workload
For those who spent months out of traditional in-person school due to the pandemic, returning to the classroom may feel scary. They may worry and wonder if they have the skills to get the job done after sitting behind a computer for so long.
1. Create a homework routine.
Predictability and structure reduce stress in kids and reinforce good habits, particularly when it comes to tackling schoolwork. Create a designated homework space in the house away from the chaos. Let the kids decorate and stock the space to make it feel like their special spot. It's also a good idea to help your kids learn time management skills; show them the below video as a starting point!
2. Make sure your child goes to bed early on school nights.
No more staying up late catching fireflies or playing video games. Kids need to go to sleep early enough so they’re well-rested for school. Get them into their school bedtime routine a week or two before school starts so they’re back on track before day one.
3. If your child is struggling, consider hiring a tutor.
If you sense they’re anxious about a particular subject, like math or reading, consider hiring a tutor. A tutor can get them back on track academically and help boost their confidence in the classroom