6 Ways to Help Your Child Overcome School Anxiety

Returning to school can be exciting, but can also invoke anxiety in kids who aren’t sure what the new year holds. There are several ways parents can help their kids ease back into school and cope with the anxiety that accompanies that first day and even those first few weeks. Lata K. McGinn, Ph.D., co-founder of Cognitive Behavioral Consultants, LLP in White Plains and a professor at Yeshiva University, shares her top tips for helping kids feel better about school.

Let Your Child Know That Feeling Anxious is Normal

Help your child know that feeling anxious about going back to school is normal–and don’t minimize how she feels. Don’t say everything will be fine. Instead, say, “It is normal to feel some anxiety about going back to school. Everyone feels it to some extent. Anxiety is a protective emotion and it will help you prepare and get ready for school, and it will pass when you adjust to being back.”

Emphasize That Anxiety Has a Purpose

Help him understand what the purpose of anxiety is and listen to it, rather than push the feeling away. Say, “Anxiety is like an unpleasant but helpful alarm, so the alarm will keep on ringing and get louder until you figure out what it is alarming you to do, and then do it.”

Say That She Has the Power to Lessen the Feeling

Help your child figure out what is making her concerned or anxious, so she can talk to herself in a way that will help her to cope with it. Ask her to pay attention to what is going through her mind when she gets anxious and come up with helpful things to say to herself. If the anxiety is saying, “I am starting high school and I will not do well and won’t get into a good college,” help her to say something like, “I am understandably anxious about starting high school and am worried that I won’t do well, but that doesn’t mean I actually won’t do well. I just need to make sure I prepare in advance, organize my work, make sure I have enough time to study, take away all distractions when I study, and get support when I need it.”

Encourage a Gradual Approach to What Makes Him Anxious

Help him gradually approach all the things that are making him anxious rather than avoiding the anxiety triggers. If seeing his friends is making him anxious, and he is avoiding seeing them or thinking about meeting them at school, help him to create a fear ladder and slowly climb it. Say, “How about you call Matt to see if he can meet up before school, and then after that, you could meet again and include Jack and Alex too?”

Avoid the Summer Slide

Do something academic to prepare for the school year, because summer brain drain is real! If she is weak in one subject, get a tutor for a few weeks or use online forums like the Khan Academy or CrashCourse (a YouTube channel led by “Fault in our Stars” author John Green and his brother Hank Green) to help her prepare. It will help her get a refresher and build her confidence.

Help Him Focus on the Positives of Going Back to School

Help him focus on positive things about going back to school as well. Ask him if he is looking forward to any aspect of going back to school. If seeing his friends is something he feels good about, say things like, “It will be nice to catch up with Jane. You have so much to tell her.” Of course, if seeing his classmates is anxiety provoking, pick another topic.