Getting back on the bus and into the classroom can make children anxious for many reasons, but experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) say good communication can help parents and caregivers ease back-to-school fears.
“Children going into first, sixth or ninth grades often have the most anxiety leading into the new school year because they likely are entering a new school,” says Larry Tyson, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Human Studies and coordinator for the Counselor Education program.
“When you are the new kid on the block, not knowing many people can make you self-conscious about how you will fit in,” said Tyson, who spent 15 years as a middle- and high-school counselor. “These transition years are big for students figuring out how they will initially fit into this big-school setting.”
Tyson suggested forming a partnership with the school counselor, no matter the student’s age.
“Parents should see counselors as child advocates – as their liaison in the school when something isn’t working the way it should or they want,” Tyson explained. “My advice is to not be a stranger; make an appointment once or twice a year, and let the people at the school see and hear from you. You don’t have to have your child with you. This will help.”
Starting a new school may not be the only stress-trigger for a child, says Josh Klapow, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Public Health.
“New situations that arise during the summer – changing to a different school system, hitting a growth spurt or experiencing a parental divorce – all can lead to extra anxiety for a child,” Klapow said.
To help children adjust, Klapow suggested the following:
- Establish a social connection before going back to school – one familiar face can reduce stress.
- If children are age 12 or younger, notify the school/teacher/counselor if they have experienced a familial change so any struggles can be communicated.
- Tweens and teens will not always offer up what is bothering them – ask open-ended questions and let them talk to you about what they think will help their situation.
“Change of any sort can be stressful, so watch your child and be a silent observer,” Klapow said. “Give them time to adjust and transition. Recognize that there will be some tough times, but they can be worked through.”