The start of the new school year might be exciting for some kids, but it might not feel so exciting for others. Concerns about returning to school after the summer holidays can be a source of anxiety and stress for your child. In fact, this transition back to school can be stressful for the whole family.
“Anxiety about starting school is actually more common than you think. Fear is the fear of the unknown, and when you think about it, a new school year brings with it several unknowns for school-age children and adolescents,” said Shykita E. Hill, clinical social worker at Iredell Psychiatry.
There are several reasons your child might be afraid of going back to school. According to Hill, possible reasons for these feelings of anxiety can include fear of going to a new school, being in a new classroom, having a new teacher, making new friends, or being bullied. Anxiety can also stem from a lack of friends or a lack of confidence in making new friends.
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How can I tell if my child is afraid of school?
Signs of anxiety can vary from child to child. No two children have exactly the same signs or symptoms.
However, according to Hill, some red flags that indicate your child is afraid of school can include:
• not easily consoled
• Refuses to go to school and cries
Be careful not to overlook your child’s upset stomach. If your child complains of abdominal pain days or weeks before the first day of class, it may be anxiety.
And while a little anxiety about going back to school is normal, you should always be open to their feelings and support them.
“Early detection can help improve your child’s overall well-being and helps develop a plan to treat the anxiety,” Hill said.
How can I help?
If your child is worried about the upcoming school year, Hill offers some tips below to help your child manage feelings of anxiety.
Children observe and learn from their parents’ actions, so it’s important to lead by example and remain calm when your child is anxious.
“Children absorb the emotions of adults. If you freak out and are anxious, your kid will feed on that,” Hill said.
2. Prepare your child for a successful year.
“Set your child up for a successful school year by being prepared and not rushing the next day,” Hill said.
This could mean packing their lunch, choosing outfits and organizing their backpack the night before.
“You should also make sure your child is getting a good night’s sleep and eating a balanced breakfast that can be eaten at home or at school,” she said.
Make sure you communicate with your child and try to understand why they are worried or anxious.
“You can start by listening to how they are feeling and exploring the source of those feelings. Do internal or external factors play a role? After you identify those things, you can help them develop a plan to deal with the anxiety,” Hill said.
You should let your child know that you care about what they experience and feel. Remember that your support is important and can help make them feel more comfortable.
“Talk about what they might be feeling and help them by role-playing or finding different solutions to whatever scenarios they might have in their mind,” Hill said.
Recognizing and acknowledging your child’s feelings is an essential part of helping them deal with them.
If possible, visit the school with your child in advance or visit the open day. This way your child knows what to expect and can see exactly where they will be going when school starts. Also, don’t forget to introduce your child to the new teacher.
“It’s also a good idea to do a dry run of what the first day of school is going to be like,” Hill said.
5. Try mindfulness exercises.
“Mindfulness is about being present in the moment and finding peace within yourself,” Hill said.
You can teach your child to practice mindfulness through breathing exercises, such as directing their attention to deep breaths.
If your child is still anxious after several weeks of school, they may need a little extra help.
“If you notice that your child’s anxiety is not easily controlled, they are in a place where they are in control of their life, and their symptoms are persistent or worsening, it is time to seek professional help,” Hill said .
You can seek help from a mental health professional or talk to your child’s GP about the best option.
With the right treatment, therapy, and your support, your child will learn to manage their anxiety.
Shykita E. Hill, MSW, LCSW-A is a new clinical social worker practicing at Iredell Psychiatry. To schedule an appointment with Hill or to learn more about Iredell Psychiatry, call the office at 704-380-3620.