Back to School Anxiety
Going back to school can be a challenging time for youth and at times can result in moodiness and anxiety. The pressure is now greater than ever for kids to perform at higher levels, which can lead to school-related anxiety and fear.
The transition can test families’ coping skills in dealing with adjustments such as new teachers and new classrooms as well as managing busy school and work schedules.
For parents concerned about how their students are handling the new school year, here are five ways they can monitor their youth’s mental health:
Help your youth feel prepared.
Whether your student is starting elementary or high school, there are many ways to be proactive. A lot of anxiety for students stems from the unknown, so help walk them through the steps, such as visiting the school grounds. If parents don’t have access, looking at a map in street view on your phone or computer can help.
Get your youth used to talking about class or recess. Ask them what they want to eat for lunch. The more questions, the more real it becomes.
Ask about the good and the bad.
Asking questions is the best way to understand how students are doing. But for older students, if you’re only inquiring about the good things, you may not get the full picture.
When you’re talking to your student, ask them about what’s going well, but also be very clear and ask what isn’t going as well. Pay particular attention to how you phrase the questions. Using “what” instead of “why” can remove any hint of accusation. That leaves room for students to open up about their feelings and relieves the pressure some students feel to be having a good time.
Listen to your youth’s concerns. What is s/he worried about? Why does s/he expect that to happen? Let your child share their fears and talk about what’s on their mind. There may be good opportunities to simply listen to your child when you are in the car, standing in line at the store or during dinner. For some kids and teens this “casual” method of talking feels less intense and makes it easier for them to express themselves.
Watch for changing behavior.
One thing that can be challenging is that a lot of the common signs of the onset of mental health symptoms are very much those of major transitions. Things like changes in sleep, increased irritability, increased weight gain or changes in appetite can signal that there may be an underlying issue.
Parents know their kids better than anyone else and can sense when something isn’t right.
Seek professional help if things don’t improve.
While kids are resilient, it’s important to pay attention to signs of anxiety or depression. If your youth is having difficulty coping with going back to school, do not hesitate to seek professional help.
American Psychological Association: Dealing with the back-to-school blues?