Back To School: How All Age Groups Can Cope with Anxiety
Though they may never admit it, some kids look forward to the start of the school year so they can reconnect with friends, join extracurricular activities and even learn new topics. However, returning to the classroom can make students anxious, especially for some children and teens who attended school remotely last year.
Some common anxiety disorders children and teens experience include panic, general anxiety and social anxiety disorder. More than seven percent of children ages 3–17 have diagnosed anxiety, and anxiety issues commonly accompany other brain health symptoms like depression and behavior problems.
In fact, behavioral problems are likely the first anxiety symptoms parents and caregivers notice. Kids may throw a tantrum before school and teens may try to stay home sick. Your child may have rapid mood swings, avoid certain activities, overplan in an attempt to control their environment or have difficulty sleeping.
Here are some ways to ease back-to-school anxiety for students from elementary to high school.
Elementary-aged students may be experiencing the classroom for the first time. Your child may be nervous about being away from parents or siblings, not know how to act in the classroom or be concerned about how to make friends.
- Participate in school and classroom tours. Back-to-school tours help kindergartners through fifth graders learn the layout of the school and become familiar with their classroom. Parents also can prepare students by walking them through common daily classroom activities and putting them on a back-to-school schedule before the first day.
- Arrange playdates with peers. No one makes friends faster than an elementary-aged student, but that doesn’t mean the process isn’t scary. Kids may connect more easily in a small group than in a classroom of more than 20 unfamiliar faces on the first day of school. Consider scheduling playdates for your child before the start of the school year to get them acclimated with peer interactions.
- Help children feel understood. Young kids may lack the communication skills to properly express their feelings. Parents can help by asking children how they’re feeling. Help them understand that new things can be scary, but they will quickly become familiar with their school environment.
Middle school-aged students are becoming more self-aware and independent. Desire to fit in, fear of bullying and developmental changes can make these years incredibly difficult, and back-to-school anxiety can exacerbate these concerns.
- Don’t avoid school or extracurricular activities. Students and parents may find it tempting to skip anxiety-inducing behavior. Avoidance is only a short-term coping mechanism and doesn’t help children develop healthy ways to manage anxiety.
- Teach them to recognize triggers. Ask your preteen or teen to think about what specifically spurs an anxious episode. Understanding what may cause a student’s anxiety helps them better address the issue.
- Assure students they aren’t alone. Make sure your child knows every adolescent goes through periods of change, uncertainty and anxiety, no matter what fellow students represent at school or on social media. In fact, all age groups experience anxiety. Peers, parents and mentors can help.
Did you know kids 12–17 are diagnosed with anxiety disorders nearly five percent more than those 3–11? Social pressure, heavier homework loads, extracurricular activities and concerns about their plans after graduation already weigh on teens’ minds. Back-to-school anxiety can add to negative brain health symptoms.
- Encourage them to talk. Parents know that teens may take time to open up. Encourage your teenager to share their anxiety troubles with someone they feel comfortable with, whether that be a friend, parent, mentor or therapist.
- Don’t ask leading questions. Instead of asking a teen, “Are you anxious about this class?” simply ask how they are feeling, allowing them to consider their own emotions and have control in expressing them.
- Model positive behavior. Good habits become ingrained by watching others model them. Parents, make sure to take care of your own brain health. If you’re feeling anxious about something, show your teen how you can focus on positive thinking while acknowledging anxiety.
If you find that your child’s back-to-school anxiety persists for several weeks and affects their overall physical, emotional or brain health, reach out to us at IowaMHDSRegions.org. We can connect you to help close to home.