Helping Kids Reduce Back-to-School Anxiety

By Staff Reports

(Victor Valley)– As summer winds down, parents have been getting their kids ready for the new school year by stocking up on binders and notepads, and finding out who their children’s new teachers will be.

With so much to do, buy and organize, parents might not think about another crucial way of equipping kids for school — getting them mentally prepared.

Karen Stewart, MD, adult and child and adolescent psychiatrist for Kaiser Permanente in Georgia, says the new school year is exciting, but it’s also stressful, especially for those transitioning to new schools.

Dr. Stewart offers six tips for reducing back-to-school anxiety.

Be aware of school-related stress. It’s important to be aware of kids’ worries and know how to respond. Parents and caretakers play a critical role in helping children understand, manage and overcome these worries. First, make sure your child knows it’s normal to be nervous.

Ask why your child is scared or nervous — it’s important to listen and show empathy. Younger children commonly worry about friends: Will they know anyone? Will they have anyone to play with or eat lunch with? To reduce anxiety, consider helping your child get to know classmates with a play date at the park, or a group shopping trip for school supplies.

Also, be mindful of your own emotions: Parental stress can be picked up by your child so stay calm, watch that you don’t express your own nervousness, and show confidence.

Problem-solve and plan.Children often seek reassurances that nothing bad will happen. Encourage your child to think of solutions for potential issues. When they are part of the solution, children feel empowered and have more buy-in to starting school. Role-playing can also boost a child’s confidence.

Fear of school violence is also a cause for anxiety. Manage that worry with open conversations and a plan of action, such as how to reach each other if there’s an emergency on campus. Also reassure your child that school violence is not a frequent occurrence.

Get them excited.Talking about past positive school experiences can brighten your child’s attitude. Discuss your child’s strengths and talents. Go shopping together for school supplies and let your child select some purchases. When children feel included, they are more likely to embrace changes, such as the start of the new school year.

Get into a routine.A regular routine can ease anxiety and make the transition smoother. Start with going to bed early and getting up at the time they would for school.

If it’s a new school, take a tour. Visit the classroom and point out the locations of key facilities, such as bathrooms, the cafeteria and administrative offices. Let the teacher or school counselor know if your child is very anxious. Many schools have systems in place, such as assigned peer buddies, to help your child’s transition.

Have a first-week plan: praise, reassure and support resilience. Organize everything together the night before school begins to cut down on first-day jitters.

Younger children may feel comforted by bringing a special object to school that reminds them of home. For an older child, a reassuring note in a lunchbox can help them feel better. This is also a time to teach about mindfulness — being more aware of the present moment. Mindfulness can quiet a busy mind and ease anxiety.

After the first day or week, praise and reward your child for being resilient and brave during a significant transition. This is an opportunity to learn and practicing resilience, making kids more adaptable to change, and better equipped to handle adverse experiences. As a reward, you can offer treats, such as special pencils or school supplies, an outing or a favorite meal.

If anxiety continues.Don’t ignore behavior that persists well into the school year. Behavior to be on the watch for might include sudden poor sleeping or eating habits, refusal to go to school, or emotional outbursts.

By talking to your child’s teacher or school counselors, or discussing your concerns with your pediatrician, you can better judge if your child needs additional help and support.

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