Ways to help cope with back-to-school anxiety
The days are getting shorter and the weather is cooling off. It’s time for kids to head back to school. Your child may be feeling some anticipatory anxiety or even dread with the thought of new teachers and classmates, and a year of challenging schoolwork.
Teens especially can stressors from fitting in with friends and getting good grades, to managing time on social media and being safe in school.
Anxious teenagers can become overwhelmed with stress and struggle to cope. If not managed, anxiety can lead to negative behaviors like withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, phobias and panic disorders, or drug and/or alcohol use.
How can you help your teenage child cope with school’s challenges?
“It’s possible to help kids learn skills they need to be resilient in the face of stress,” says Dr. Munther Barakat, a psychologist at Aurora Behavioral Health Center. “Anxiety about returning to school is common, but you can help your child learn to cope by teaching them positive strategies to deal with stress.”
Dr. Barakat has recommendations to help teens manage back-to-school anxiety.
- Help your teen prepare for school by knowing what to expect.
Establish a connection to school. If your child is attending a new school or transitioning from junior high to high school, plan a visit with your child to meet teachers, or ask to have them tour the building with friends. Review textbooks to help your child get acquainted with the coursework.
- Talk to your school about accommodations that will help an anxious child succeed.
If your child has a history of feeling anxious at school, they may have struggled academically or socially. Ask your child what they think they need in the classroom to be successful and discuss it with teachers or have them meet with your child. Ask teachers to alert you to any changes in your child’s classwork or social relationships.
- Help your teen organize their time.
Guide the expectations for completion of homework and be available if additional help or a tutor is needed. Help your teen learn to organize their day with to-do lists.
- Review a healthy bedtime and morning routine.
Encourage your child to get to bed on time and have a nutritious breakfast. Convince them to put away devices and organize their clothes and backpack for a less frantic morning.
- Encourage your teen to discuss worries and think positively.
Allow your child to express their concerns and let them know you’re available to listen. Help them focus on positives and things they enjoy, like friends, after-school activities and their favorite class. Remind them of what went well last year in school. Teaching your child problem-solving and life skills encourages them to cope and be independent.
- Teach your teen to how to practice stress management.
Techniques like deep breathing, meditation or yoga can help your child learn to relax. Resources to learn relaxation techniques are available in books, online videos, or apps that you can share with your child.
“Keep connected to your child to let them know someone understands and acknowledges their feelings,” says Dr. Barakat. “Anxiety can be mild or exhibit itself as a serious disorder. Trouble sleeping or eating, irritability or difficulty concentrating are all signs that your child is struggling. Let your child know you are there to support them, including reaching out to a professional for more help.”
About the Author
Bonnie Farber, health enews contributor, is a communications professional in the Public Affairs and Marketing Operations Department at Advocate Aurora Health. Her experience includes integrated product marketing in the biotechnology field, strategic communications at American Family Insurance and UW Credit Union, and marketing communications consulting for non-profit organizations in Wisconsin and Minnesota. She holds a degree in History from University of Wisconsin-Madison and enjoys playing music in a Brazilian percussion band and volunteering for a listener-sponsored radio station in her free time.