School Anxiety: How to Help Your Nervous Kids Manage the Jitters This Year

Heading back to school – or maybe into school for the first time – is a mixed bag of emotions, and can often turn into school anxiety. Some kids get excited while others begin having feelings of being anxious — both of which are perfectly normal.

Transitioning back to school can be difficult for any student, preschoolers through high school!

Leaving the warm summer days behind with afternoons at the pool and roasting marshmallows under the stars for early bedtimes and days spent learning in classrooms and away from Mom and Dad can make for a tough transition.

Children who normally have little problem leaving Mom and Dad may experience a spike in school anxiety. Prime transition times – the start of Kindergarten, heading into middle school, high school or beginning a new school can be especially challenging and higher incidences of anxiety are more prevalent.

Friends who move away, siblings who used to be at the same school but are now separated or if there has been a big change at home can also exacerbate a child’s worries.

Back to school anxiety is common and tends to peak every year, two weeks before kids head to school.

Common Back to School Worries Include:

  • Will I like my teacher and will my teacher like me?
  • Will I have any friends in my class?
  • Will I fit in?
  • Will kids like me?
  • What if I get lost at school?
  • What if I’m late or miss the bus?
  • What if I don’t understand all the school work or know how to do something?
  • I don’t want to leave my Mom

Signs of School Anxiety

Sure, worries about heading to school – a new classroom, teacher and a handful of unknowns can spur on anxiety. These are the sneaky symptoms of anxiety to be on the lookout for:

  • Changes in sleep patterns / experiences sleep disturbances
  • Clingy behavior and separation anxiety
  • Anxious behavior – nail biting, chewing on objects, hair twirling
  • Stomach pains and upset tummy
  • Emotional behavior – tantrums, meltdowns, increased irritability and/or crying

Here are tips to help you with helping your nervous kids successfully manage their school anxiety.

1) Avoiding School is Not an Option

Avoiding school because of your child’s worries isn’t really a logical option, and if you allow them to avoid school, this can reinforce their fears and make them more anxious. Missing school will lead to getting behind on work and ultimately, creates bigger problems. It also robs your child of getting to know their teacher, starting friendships and mastery of the school system.

2) Add Extra Time In The Morning to Avoid a Rush

I know adults also feel anxious when they’re rushing around in the morning to get out the door on time. It’s not surprise that kids feel the same way.

Plan for extra time in the morning so your kids have enough time to get ready, eat a healthy breakfast and get ready for the day without feeling rushed to head out.

Prepare the night before by:

  • Pre-Pack lunches
  • Setting out the next day’s outfits to speed up getting dressed in the Am
  • Check homework, sign parent forms, pack backpacks
  • Fill water bottles
  • Prep Breakfast (overnight oats are a easy & filling breakfast for school days!)

3) Make Sure All The Basic Needs are Being Met

Kids can better handle transitions and new experiences when they are rested, aren’t hungry and feel prepared. Kids who are anxious tend to eat a little bit less and being hungry can feed a bad mood and anxious behavior.

Two weeks before school starts, get your kids to bed at an appropriate time based on when they need to wake up and get ready for school. Make sure they’re getting enough rest based on their age and how active they are during the day.

4) Don’t Give Reassurance, Instead Problem-Solving

Kids often seek reassurance from Mom and Dad their fears won’t happen but don’t be tempted to assure them with blanket statements such as saying “everything will be Ok,” “don’t worry about those things,” or “I promise, you’ll like school.

Instead, discuss your child’s fears with them, empathize with their rationale and then address those fears and problem solve. Think of ways to strategically to solve each situation.

For example:

Worry: If your child is worried they won’t have anyone to sit with at lunch.

Solution: he could be to ask one new classmate in the morning if they want to eat lunch together.

A Mom to three spunky kids, including twins. I've let go of the idea of being a "perfect parent" and instead, just want to be a good Mom. Sometimes that means it takes me four times to fluff a load of laundry before folding it and not arguing when my kids want to wear snow boots in 90-degree weather, but being a real parent is much better than failing at trying to be a perfect one.

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