Going back to school is not always exciting like TV commercials might suggest. Some students are so stressed or scared about going back to school that they might even suffer from mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
For students who become emotionally drained as soon as they hear the school bell ring, experts have some solutions.
Rachel Eddins, a licensed professional counselor, said in an email that anxiety is the most common mental health issue that students experience when they go back to school.
“Anxiety can take shape in different forms for different people: separation anxiety, especially for a kindergartener or younger child, general anxiety about starting something new for many people, or even social anxiety about being around many new people you don't know,” Eddins said.
She said anxiety can be worse when there are bigger changes, such as going to a brand new school, or leaving home for college.
Anxiety is caused by change and fear of the unknown, she said. So the best way to minimize anxiety is to plan ahead and prepare for going back to school.
“Discuss thoughts, feelings, and concerns openly,” she said. “Don't minimize fears ... because the fact is, they are worried and need your help actually dealing with it,” Eddins said.
Here are a few more ways to help prevent back-to-school anxiety:
1) “Keep your household organized the days leading up to the change and spend time together ... If you're going off to college or a new school, be sure to arrive several days in advance to allow plenty of time to get your things settled.”
2) “Be sure to get a good night's rest several nights prior. This might involve spending time talking with your child before bedtime to explore what's on their mind and providing comfort, reassurance, and soothing to help them relax. Proper nutrition is also important for managing anxiety. Be sure kids get a healthy, balanced breakfast (be sure to include protein) before school starts and lunches are packed the night before.”
3) “If [they will be] riding the bus, walk them to the bus stop.”
Jennifer Soos, a licensed marriage and family therapist who has two kids returning to school, said in an email that she believes back-to-school anxiety to be a normal and common experience for people of all ages.
She said common causes of anxiety include fear of bullying and performance anxiety. In order to manage anxiety, it’s important to understand the root cause.
Here are a few tips Soos has used on her own kids when they have back-to-school anxiety:
1) Attend a “Meet the Teacher” or “Back to School” night if possible. Information about school can give students a sense of control, including just being able to find the nearest bathroom or seeing where their desk.
2) Start a school schedule ahead of time. Soos makes sure her kids go to bed at the appropriate time for school four to five days in advance.
3) Soos makes sure to involve her kids with buying school supplies. She also has them engage in reading time or quiet time in advance, which could include doing puzzles or word games, just to help them prepare for doing homework.
4) She makes sure her work schedule is light during the first week or two when her kids start school so she can be there to support them.
“Our family has a summer tradition where we mark the beginning and the end of summer with a ‘camp in,’” Soos said. “We let the boys set up their tents in the living room and we have a family movie night complete with s'mores and they get to stay up late and sleep in sleeping bags/tents.”
“Rituals are another great way to help kids know what to expect,” she added. “They provide an external signal to the body/mind that it is time to transition.”
Joy Cleary and Kay Ostensen, licensed clinical social workers, are a mother-daughter team that owns Seaside Solutions.
They said in an email that it’s common for students to start acting out around the time school is about to start due to anxiety and stress. They said because of this, it’s important to do trial runs of school routines, and make sure to praise your children when they do well.
Cleary and Ostensen suggest visiting the school site ahead of time, and if your child knows anyone ahead of time that they’ll be going to school with it, it could be beneficial to plan an activity with them before school starts to help relieve stress.
Eddins, Rachel. Email interview. August 20, 2013.
Soos, Jennifer. Email interview. August 20, 2013.
Cleary, Joy and Ostensen, Kay. Email interview. August 21, 2013.
Reviewed August 22, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith