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Managing Back to School Anxiety

July 15th, 2019

Children can experience a lot of different emotions when returning back to school after the summer break. Anxiety is one of the most common feelings children experience at the beginning of the school year. Anxiety often is our reaction to the unknown. 

There are a lot of unknowns in a child’s life when they return back to school. 
Some common worries children have may include: 

  • Who are my classmates? 
  • Will I like my teacher?
  • Who will I sit next to? 
  • What will I be served for lunch? 
  • What will I play during recess?
  • Who will I play with? 
  • And the list continues…..

Some children are able to communicate their feelings using words; others express their emotions through behaviors (oppositional, socially withdrawing etc.) and physical symptoms (complaining of stomach aches, headaches, difficulty sleeping)

Here are some ways in which you can help ease their transition back to school: 

  • Encourage building of your child’s emotional vocabulary by helping them connect their internal feelings with behaviors and emotion words (e.g. when I feel nervous my hands get sweaty). This can help the child better recognize their feelings and ask for help or use their coping skills as soon as they notice their body’s physical cues.
  • Normalize their feelings. Remind the child that there are no good or bad feelings. Feeling anxious is very normal. 
  • Re-establish morning, bedtime and mealtime routines a couple of weeks before school starts. Discuss the drop off and pick up plans in detail so the child knows what to expect. This can be done by writing it down or making a picture schedule. The more your child can anticipate events, the more she will feel in control of her daily environment. 
  • Develop a back-to-school narrative with your child. Work with your child in making up a story about going back to school. This story can include your child as the main character or someone else. Help your child problem solve through storytelling. Children often share their inner feelings through play. Storytelling is a wonderful way to learn more about their concerns and fun way for them to learn adaptive coping skills!
  • Openly talk about them returning back-to-school. Ask your child about things they are excited about and things they are nervous about with respect to school. Openly (but in an age appropriate way) share about some of your own challenges as a student and talk about how you overcame them. This can be a casual conversation you have in the car or while coloring together. 
  • Teach and practice relaxation skills including deep breathing, meditation, etc. regularly. Blowing bubbles is a great way to practice deep breathing. This can help decrease some physical symptoms of anxiety. 
  • Visit the school with your child. Re-orient your child to their school. If the building is locked, walk around the school or play in the playground 
  • Built up the excitement! Help your child get excited about their return to school. Go backpack and school supplies shopping together! Help them pick out their outfit for their first day back! 
  • Transitional objects are a great way to help some children feel emotionally safe as they transition into a new environment. Depending on the child’s age this can be a teddy bear they take with them; a sign they make for the classroom or a note from a parent that they carry around in their pocket. 
  • Assign a “safe person” at school. This can be a teacher or staff member. This person can remind your child to use her relaxation skills when anxious. 

By: Dr. Amrita Uttamchandani, Clinical Psychologist, Siskin Center for Developmental Pediatrics

About the author
AMRITA UTTAMCHANDANI, PSY. D.

Dr. Uttamchandani  is a Clinical Psychologist with expertise in developmental delays. Dr. Uttamchandani’s particular specialty is working with children and adolescents who exhibit behavioral and emotional problems. She provides support for parents while working with children and adolescents to identify their struggles and develop adaptive ways to resolve them. Her perspective encourages collaboration between teachers, parents, family, and healthcare providers as they support the well-being of the child. Dr. Uttamchandani conducts psychological assessments to provide diagnosis clarification and treatment recommendations. She provides therapy in English, Hindi and Urdu, and, for clients who do not speak those languages, she is trained to provide therapy in the presence of an interpreter. 


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