Prior to the first day of school, younger children may cling, cry or have temper tantrums. Older children may complain of headaches or stomach pains, withdraw, become sullen or irritable. College students may have less patience, feel restless or have a decreased desire to participate in regular activities.
Anxious children, teens and young adults, worry about many different school-related issues, such as teachers/professors, friends, fitting in, and/or being away from their parents. Although it is normal for a child, at any age, to have worries, it is crucial to make your child attend school and classes. Avoidance of school and falling behind will only increase and reinforce your child’s fears over the long-term and make it increasingly more difficult to attend.
Here are some strategies to make the transition back to school a positive experience for the entire family:
Primary school children:
- Get back into the school-day routine at least a week early – waking up, eating and going to bed at regular times.
- Get your child involved in planning out their lunches and snacks for the first week back.
- For anxious kids, plenty of detail can be calming. Talk through the steps of getting to their classroom and the bus.
- Stick to familiar routines as much as possible. Try to have a calm evening and allow more time to settle before bedtime if your child is feeling excited or nervous about school.
- Help your child pack their bag the night before. A visual checklist can help them remember what they need to take. Lay out their clothes so everything’s ready for the morning.
- Allow some extra time to get ready on day one so you’re not rushing.
- Routine applies to everyone. Encourage your teen to take responsibility for getting back into the swing of things the week before school starts, which unfortunately means an end to any late-night video game marathons.
- Help your young person set some realistic, achievable goals for the year.
- Talk through any issues or fears they might have – whether these are about friends, grades or teachers. Instead of focusing on hypothetical ‘what ifs’, try and steer them towards ‘what is’…and what they can do to change the situation.
- Encourage them to get organized. Making lists or using a calendar may seem daunting at first, but knowing what needs to be tackled and when may be half of the battle.
- Focus on good health by exercising, getting more sleep and making good food choices.
- Talking to family, friends, an Academic Advisor or Counselor is also helpful.
- Utilizing calming techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, visualization or positive imagery is a good way to stay focused on goals and stay relaxed.
- Make it a point to encourage them to find some quiet time where they can be alone. Residence halls may be wonderfully social places to live, but they are often continually active and busy.
- Work together to set some goals or make some resolutions. Be forward thinking and know where you’re headed.
- It is important to support college students to not just hope for something, and teach and mentor them to create an action plan that will get them there.
Finally, remember to also pay attention to your own behavior. It can be anxiety-provoking for parents to hand over care and responsibility of their child to a teacher or to drop off their child at college. Children take cues from their parents, so the more confidence and comfort you can model, the more your child will understand there is no reason to be afraid.
It can take a few weeks for kids to adjust to their new class, make friends and get to know their teachers. Children starting a new school can also feel a sense of loss at having to leave their familiar environment behind. If you notice changes in your child’s behavior lasting beyond the first couple of weeks, speak to school staff about your concerns.
Youth have unique risk factors for mental health problems, especially when you consider today’s often highly-competitive, stressful school environment. Knowing what signs to look for can help you know when you may need to offer support.
Know how to start a conversation.
Though more people are now talking openly about mental health, stigma is pervasive and can make having conversations about mental health tough—especially for young people. Being genuine is a good place to start.
Does your child’s school have a mental health counselor? Are there support groups in the area that might be helpful? Know what resources are available in your child’s school and community so you can be prepared to reach out.
Take care of yourself.
Providing support to others can sometimes leave you feeling worn out, frustrated or even angry. Taking the time to do things for yourself will help you stay healthy, happy and in a better frame of mind to care for others.