Working with Back-to-School Worries

Working with Back-to-School Worries

by Dr. Katie daCruz, PhD

Going back to school can be a stressful time for kids. For some kids, every new year causes worry. For other kids, they may only worry when the new year brings big changes like a new school or changing classes for the first time. Kids who have trouble keeping up academically or fitting in socially can be particularly anxious as the school year gets closer. Common worries include:

  • What if my new teacher(s) is mean or doesn’t know how to help me?   

  • Will I have any friends to talk to in my classes?

  • Are my clothes okay or do I look stupid?

  • Who will I sit with at lunch?

  • What if math/science/english is too hard for me?

  • What if something bad happens to mom/dad/grandma/sister while I am at school?

Although it can be very challenging to see your child experience anxiety, it is crucial to have your child attend school. Postponing a return to school will only make it harder to attend later. And staying away from school only increases fear over time because it means there is no opportunity to learn from experience that either the worry isn’t that bad or that they can handle the feelings.

The following are some helpful tips for working with these common back to school worries:

  1. Check in with your own feelings about the start of school. Kids can tell when parents are nervous, so managing your own stress is a good way to help them feel calm too.

  2. Listen to your child’s concerns. Let your child share their fears and talk about what’s on their mind. Ask with real curiosity about what in particular they are worrying about and why. Helping a child feel understood and listened to is a key way that parents can help manage worry. Learning more about your child’s specific concerns can also help you work together to find specific solutions.

  3. Brainstorm together ways that could make going back to school easier. For example, walking to their classroom with them the first day (if allowed) or downloading a new audiobook to listen to on the bus ride to school.

  4. Send the message that you understand how hard going back to school can be and also that you are confident they can handle the worry and the things they worry about. For example, “I see that you are anxious about school. I remember feeling that way too. And I believe in you and I’m here to help you with it.”

  5. Talk about good memories and positive moments from previous years to help highlight and remember that there are rewarding parts of school.

  6. Consider starting to add back in small parts of the school routine so that their routine doesn’t change overnight.

  7. Before the school year starts, visit the school several times and spend some time there playing on the playground or the sports fields. 

School-related anxiety often fades as the school year goes on.  If your child’s anxiety doesn’t go away and interferes with school, it is time to get support from a mental health professional. Some signs to look for are physical symptoms only on school days (e.g. anxious headaches or stomach aches), high conflict over going to school, or refusing to go to school altogether. For support in this area, contact us at (734) 323-4897 or for more information.

Katie is a G3 Limited License Psychologist & Contributing Writer.