The start of a new school year can be stressful for families. Early mornings, hectic schedules, challenging homework, and conflicts with teachers and classmates can cause anxiety for children of all ages and make parents feel helpless and frustrated. We asked Atlantic Behavioral Health crisis clinician Brian Wilson, MA, LAC, a full-time school counselor for Morris Plains School District, how parents can help ease back-to-school stress. Here are some tips.
Normalize the Anxiety
Reinforce that it’s normal to fear change. Help kids understand that parents, too, often feel anxious about going back to work – especially after a long vacation. Talking openly and honestly is a step in the right direction.
Get Back into the Routine … Early
A few weeks (not days) before school starts, get the whole family back into a school-based routine. Get up earlier, eat dinner earlier, go to bed earlier, and have kids spend the day constructively engaged in an activity (rather than sitting in front of a TV) to prepare them for the classroom.
Involve Kids in the Process
Make sure your children know when and what time school starts, how they will get to school, and what they will be doing after school. Involve them in choosing school supplies and clothes.
Do a Walk-Through
Whether your child is entering kindergarten or high school, it may be helpful to visit school prior to the first day. Meeting teachers, finding their classroom, locating their locker, and reviewing their schedule in advance can help reduce fear of the unknown.
Watch and Listen
Learn to identify signs of stress in your child:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Changes in appetite or behavior
- Stomachaches or other physical symptoms
- Withdrawal from friends, family or activities
- Faking sickness to avoid school
When to Seek Professional Help
Although back-to-school stress is often temporary, if children have trouble functioning normally or maintaining their routine, parents should consult their school counselor and/or pediatrician for professional support.
For more information, call the Behavioral Health access number at 1-888-247-1400.