Most of us entering a new situation experience a certain degree of anxiety. It is the case for adults starting a new job or moving into a new town and for kids facing a brand new year of school. Parents may be tuned in to potential anxiety when their child enters school for the very first time but, actually, every new school year can bring on fresh bouts of fear and worry.
Children and adolescents often feel a desire to return to the social world of the classroom by summer’s end even as they fear it. Will they succeed academically? Will they connect socially? And if they are beginning in a new school building – will they be able to find classrooms, lockers and bathrooms without looking foolish? These concerns are often present even if your child doesn’t verbalize them to you. So how can you, the parent, know when your child is struggling with anxiety about going back to school?
Clues to Unspoken Anxiety
- Lots of questions pertaining to school
- Increased nervous behaviors such as nail chewing, disturbed sleep, unexplained stomach problems or headaches
- Irritability or sudden attachment
How to Help
As a parent you can help your child work through their anxiety by talking over specific fears. Visits to the bus stop or the school can defuse some of the worry about finding things, making them less of an unknown. It will also lower stress if your home has a prepared atmosphere. Make sure book bags, school supplies and lunch items are all in place before the first day of class. Let children know that it is perfectly normal to feel anxious about walking into a new environment and that anxiety will not last forever.
Most of the time, as things at school start to become routine, your child’s level of anxiety will start to go down. If fears and unease persist after the first month or six weeks it may be a good idea to have your child evaluated by a mental health professional. Behavioral Health Professionals at Family Guidance work with children and adolescents every day, helping them learn to cope positively with anxiety and other powerful emotions.