As the back-to-school season approaches, it’s not uncommon for children to experience feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. To help parents navigate these feelings with their kiddos, we turned to Quincy Medical Group Pediatric Therapist JoAnn O’Rourke, who shared some advice and strategies to support children facing back-to-school anxiety.

Familiarity is Key:
O’Rourke emphasizes the significance of taking advantage of “back-to-school” activities provided by schools. These events give children an opportunity to explore their new school room, meet their teachers, and become acquainted with their environment before the first day of school. Familiarizing children with their new classroom each year can help alleviate anxiety that arises from walking into a new situation “blind.”

Prioritize Sleep and Rest:
Adequate rest is crucial for a child’s mental health and readiness for the school year. O’Rourke recommends parents start getting their children back into their school sleep/wake schedule as early as possible. A well-rested child is better equipped to handle stress and anxiety.

Normalizing First-Day Jitters:
Remind and teach your children that it is perfectly normal to feel anxious when starting something new, such as a new school year. Knowing that other children also experience some level of anxiety on the first day can be comforting. Encourage them to reflect on past accomplishments and times when they successfully worked through anxious feelings. This will help build their confidence.

Parental Self-Reflection:
Parents must be mindful of their own emotions and anxiety surrounding their child going off to school, O’Rourke shared. Children often take cues from their parents, so if parents are anxious, it may intensify their child’s anxiety as well. Maintaining a calm and supportive demeanor can help ease their child’s worries.

Recognizing Signs of Anxiety:
Anxiety in children can manifest in various ways. O’Rourke highlights common signs to watch out for, including withdrawing and becoming “frozen” with fear, increased irritability or aggression, more frequent headaches or stomach aches, and difficulty concentrating. Identifying these signs can help parents address anxiety early on.

The Power of Open-Ended Questions:
To understand the root cause of a child’s anxiety, O’Rourke recommends using open-ended questions. By asking questions like “What happened?” or “What are your tears trying to say?” parents can gain insights into their child’s worries, such as separation from caregivers, excessive self-consciousness, or concerns about various aspects of school.

The Role of Counseling:
O’Rourke says counseling can be a valuable resource for both children and parents. It provides a safe space for parents to discuss their family routine and their child’s behavior with an objective therapist. Through collaboration, the therapist and family work together to identify potential triggers and develop a plan for positive change to alleviate anxiety.

If you have concerns regarding your child’s anxiety, speak with their primary care provider for more information. If you’re in need of a primary care provider, click here.