Simple Ways to Manage Back-to-School Anxiety

As summer comes to an end and families gear up for the new school year, this transition can bring on anxiety for even the most easy-going kids and parents. Here are some ways to help you and your family make the transition easier:

Check Yourself

Prepare yourself for your child’s back-to-school activities, schedules, and homework. Dr. Busman at the Child Mind Institute recommends, “taking your own temperature to make sure you’re not passing on stress to your kids.” To help you manage your own stress she also adds, “it’s important not to take on more commitments than the family can handle comfortably. “I think there’s a contagion effect that we have to be careful of.”

Provide Structure and Routine

“One of the most important aspects of success for adults and children alike is structure and routine,” says Bobby Hoffman, PhD. Research shows that students who prepare ahead of time for the challenges of school have more positive feelings about school and perform better academically (Struthers, Perry, & Menec, 2000). This includes easing into earlier bedtime hours. Jerry Brubrick, PhD, recommends, “First, we want kids to start (and they’re going to resist) having more school-like hours. Even just a few days before school begins, bedtime should go back from 11:00 to 9:00, for example, or whatever is appropriate.” Also, “kids should be waking up around the time they’d have to wake up for school and performing the normal routine: shower, breakfast, getting dressed, and so forth.

“We also suggest that you limit 'screen time'—whether it’s a computer, the TV, or a handheld device-and make sure they are off at least an hour before bed. Kids sometimes have a hard time separating from their virtual world, and if they don’t have some 'downtime' they’ll still be engaged and it will affect their ability to fall asleep on their own.”

Listen to Their Worries

”When kids express anxiety about going back to school — a new teacher, increases in homework, making a team, a friend crisis — do listen seriously, says Dr. Busman, PhD.

She goes on to say, “Rather than dismissing these fears (‘Nothing to be worried about! You’ll be fine!’) listening to them and acknowledging your child’s feelings will help them feel more secure. And if your child wants to, you can boost his confidence by helping him strategize about how to handle things he’s concerned about.

“But keep in mind that kids often want to be able to talk about something they’re upset about without expecting you to fix them. Your job is validate their feelings (‘I know that’s hard’) and demonstrate confidence that they can handle the situation.

“Don’t ask questions that suggest you expect kids to be anxious (‘Are you worried about having Mr. Connelly for math?’) but check in with them in a more casual way. “It doesn’t have to be a half-hour discussion,” notes Dr. Busman, “but in the car on the way to get a new backpack, you might ask ‘Do you know what you’re going to be learning in math this year?’ Kids often say more when there is less pressure to ‘have a talk.’”

Provide Support

According to Bobby Hoffman, PhD, “Achievement is a three-way effort that is most successful when parents, teachers, and students share involvement and mutually commit to student learning outcomes. Commitment begins with encouragement, but also includes modeling positive behaviors (like reading books and helping with homework when necessary). Parents should avoid constantly judging [their grades] or [questioning the efforts or lack of interest of the child]. Success is a team effort! “Consider being a coach first, and a parent second (Bobby Hoffman, PhD).”

These are some simple ways to transition from summer to school, and this is a reason for everyone to celebrate!

Additional Support

If you need additional help and support to work through your stress and anxiety, please contact me: