The Medical Minute: How parents can manage back-to-school anxiety

It’s that time of year again – time for kids to head back to school. Children are filled with a mix of emotion, from dread to eagerness, acceptance to excitement.

But the start of a new school year can be a time of anxiety, too, for kids and parents alike. The more laidback schedule and tenor of summer is coming to an end, to be replaced with fast-paced mornings and hectic weeknights. Anxious moments and doubts can be especially present for children making a milestone transition from home to kindergarten, grade school to middle school, middle school to high school, or high school to college.

“The less experience you have—as a parent or a child—with going back to school, the harder it can be,” says Dr. James Waxmonsky, chief of child psychiatry at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Waxmonsky says that parents need to recognize that it’s natural to worry when their child starts something new. But, he says, kids readily pick up on our emotional states, so worried parents can lead to unnecessarily worried children.

“Kids mirror our mental state,” he says. “Even if we think we are good at masking how we feel, if we approach something with anxiety and dread, it will affect kids and their routine. It’s most important to be aware of your feelings and present a calm, hopeful way of looking at things.”

Parents can help their children view back-to-school transitions positively in a number of ways:

  • Start transitioning to a back-to-school routine early, even before the first day of school. This will make the transition less dramatic on the first few days by easing everyone into the new routine.
  • Know school logistics, such as the name of your child’s teacher or teachers; the school bus route and schedule; and lunch food options. The more detail you have, the more comfortable you’ll be and the better you can prepare your child.
  • Help older children learn to organize their school belongings (like backpacks and lockers) and set their own schedule to let them take some ownership of the new routine.
  • Know there will be some bumps, and that most will work themselves out along the way. Take advantage of school resources to help address any unresolved issues after the first two weeks or so.
August 21, 2013 Penn State Health News

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