Back to School: How to Make the Transition as Stress-Free as Possible
By Victoria Cruse Motter
Going back to school can be a very stressful time of year for both parents and children. Starting a new school year can makes kids worried, uneasy and tense, especially if there will be changes from the previous year, such as a new school, new teachers or new peers. It is very normal to experience some degree of back-to-school anxiety. After all, any situation that we spend eight or more hours a day from ages 5 through 18 is, in various ways, going to shape who we are, what we feel, what we think and, conceivably, who we want to become.
The best way to manage and deal with back-to-school anxiety is to take steps to ease your child’s concern regarding the beginning of the new school year.
If your child throws a tantrum about going back to school, it is extremely important for you to remain calm and avoid getting irritated or upset. This can be very difficult to do, but keep in mind that tantrums are an attention-seeking behavior. So, it is always the best practice to ignore the tantrum and praise your child when he or she starts using good behaviors again.
Here a few techniques to help both parents and children ease into a new school year:
■ Practice morning and evening routines.
Several weeks before school begins, start to transition to your “school year schedule.” This includes bedtime, wake-up time and when you have your meals.
■ Display a sense of confidence and understanding.
You can be the best advocate for your children by letting them know that you understand their anxiety about the school year. Let them know you believe in them and you are confident things will go well.
■ Get everything in order in advance of the first day.
Make sure your children have all the necessary school supplies for the new year. Try to the acquire new teachers' names and pictures, obtain copies of class schedules in advance and visit the school together before the first day.
■ Provide children with some choices.
Let them choose what clothes to wear, what breakfast to have or the color of their backpacks. All of these things can provide a sense of control and excitement about school.
■ Plan extra time in the morning.
This is especially important for the first few days of school, as it will provide you the time to deal with tantrums or other avoidance tactics often used by children.
■ Reach out to other parents and peers for support.
Try to set up a play date for your children and some of their other classmates before school begins. Talking with parents about their own back-to-school struggles and triumphs can often be extremely helpful.
It is also important to note that, although some anxiety is a normal response, parents should be able to recognize the difference between normal back-to-school jitters and anxiety that warrants clinical attention. Some ways to tell when a child’s anxiety is cause for concern would include anxiety symptoms that persist beyond the first few weeks of school that seem excessive, problems sleeping alone, refusal to attend activities without parents and ongoing withdrawal or worries that aren’t diminishing. There are also physical symptoms, such as stomachaches or unwarranted fatigue, that could indicate the child’s anxiety should be evaluated by a mental health professional.
Victoria Cruse Motter is the Bellefonte clinic manager for Universal Community Behavioral Health of The Meadows.