With every new school year comes new clothes, backpacks, lunch boxes and supplies. But for some children, going back to school brings something else: anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, school-related anxiety affects 2 to 5 percent of children and teens, commonly between ages 5 and 6, 10 and 11 and transition times, such as entering middle and high school.
Geoffrey Putt, PsyD, director of outpatient therapy centers at Akron Children’s Hospital, encourages parents to talk with their children and give them the tools to have a successful start.
“It is normal for children to be anxious to start school,” said Dr. Putt. “They don’t know what to expect, are scared about making friends, and getting lost. Sometimes, children who may be starting kindergarten sense that Mom and Dad are scared and they mirror those feelings.”
When dealing with feelings of anxiety, Dr. Putt suggests following these 8 steps to help kids of all ages reduce stress related to school:
- Rehearsal is important: Practice riding the bus, walking into school, meeting the teacher. Letting children know what to expect is crucial for reducing stress and anxiety.
- “Normalize” their anxiety: Let them know it’s OK to be nervous, but it isn’t OK to let it stop them from participating in school.
- Routine is your friend: Have a bedtime routine. Lay out clothes and pack lunches and backpacks the night before. A morning routine is just as important. Routines are comforting. They help children know what to expect daily and reduce stress.
- Discuss scenarios: Talk about what they should do if they forget their lunch or lunch money, where each grade sits, and new ways to find someone to play with at recess. Encourage them to participate in activities such as kickball or tag.
- Talk to them about your school experience. If you focus on the positive, your child will as well.
- If your teen is nervous about getting lost in middle/high school, walk the halls, go from class to class and find his locker.
- Practice unlocking the locker with the combination. Help find ways to remember the combination, such as memorization and/or writing it down somewhere safe.
- Help teens prepare for bullying. Teach them to talk to a teacher or a guidance counselor if the teasing crosses a line, such as if one child calls another ‘4-eyes,’ and then takes her glasses. “Discussing bullying does not make it okay, but instead gives them the tools to handle it,” Dr. Putt said.
While it may be normal to be nervous, know when it goes beyond everyday stress. If the stress and anxiety don’t go away with time, and/or panic attacks occur, contact a guidance counselor or a therapist.