This is especially true for children and teens going back to school, or for first-timers starting kindergarten. This transition can be stressful and disruptive for the entire family! Prior to the first days of school, your anxious child may cling, cry, have temper tantrums, complain of headaches or stomach pains, withdraw, and become sullen or irritable.
Worries are Common. Anxious children and teens worry about many different school-related issues, such as teachers, friends, fitting in, and/or being away from their parents. Some common worries include:
- Who will be my new teacher?
- What if my new teacher is mean?
- Will any of my friends be in my class?
- Will I fit in?
- Are my clothes OK?
- Will I look stupid?
- Who will I sit with at lunch?
- What if I miss the bus?
- What if I can’t understand the new schoolwork?
- What if something bad happens to mom or dad while I am at school?
Although it is normal for your child to have worries, it is crucial to make your child attend school. Avoidance of school will only increase and reinforce your child’s fears over the long-term, and make it increasingly more difficult to attend. Besides missing school work, children and teens who stay home because of anxiety miss:
- valuable opportunities to develop and practice social skills
- important chances for success and mastery
- being acknowledged and praised for talents
- fostering close friendships with classmates
Most importantly, anxious children and teens who miss school cannot gather evidence that challenges their unrealistic and catastrophic fears!
How To Deal With Back-to-School Worries!
Below are some general strategies parents can use to deal with back-to-school worries, followed by a schedule leading up to the first day of school.
LOOK AFTER THE BASICS.
Nobody copes well when they are tired or hungry. Anxious children often forget to eat, don’t feel hungry, and don’t get enough sleep. Provide frequent and nutritious snacks for your child. During this time, you also need to build in regular routines, so that life is more predictable for your child. These routines can involve the morning and bedtime habits, as well as eating schedules.
ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD TO SHARE HIS OR HER FEARS.
Ask your child what is making him or her worried. Tell your child that it is normal to have concerns. Before and during the first few weeks of school, set up a regular time and place to talk. Some children feel most comfortable in a private space with your undivided attention (such as right before bed, or during mealtime). Teens often welcome some sort of distraction to cut the intensity of their worries and feelings (such as driving in the car, or taking a walk).