Back to school time means change and change often means anxiety. Neha Sharma, DO, a child psychiatrist at Tufts Children's Hospital explains how parents can find the root of what is causing the worry and how they can set expectations and routines that will help alleviate the stress that come naturally at the start of a new school year.
How parents can help
If a child is saying he or she doesn’t want to go back to school, a parent should have a thoughtful conversation with him or her to figure out why. Dr. Sharma suggests parents “ask the child ‘what is hard about school?’ to try to come up with solutions.” Once you find the problem, come up with a plan to combat the issue together, she adds.
Tips about common worries:
Solution: Dr. Sharma suggests involving the entire family in a new sleep schedule so that the child doesn’t feel like he or she has to do it alone. Begin this new routine two weeks before school starts, or as early as possible.
Creating new relationships
Solution: If a child seems anxious about making friends, find ways to connect with parents that have children going into the same class prior to school. Pool parties or other gatherings can serve as icebreakers for everyone before the first day of school. Carpooling for school drop-off and pick-up is another great way to start forging relationships.
Entering a new environment
Solution: Parents can contact the school to set up a tour before classes begin. This way, the child is relieved from the fear of the unknown and can see that it isn’t the scary place they envisioned in their mind. Parents can use this time to create a map of the school and their classrooms, which can be taped to the front of a binder.
Sometimes a school will have a mentor program, where older children can help younger children acclimate to a new school. This is worth looking into if your child is new to the area and/or is worried about making friends.
Solution: If a school-aged child is experiencing separation anxiety, often-times a child’s family has been going through difficulties or a child’s parent is ill. In this case, a parent or guardian of the child will need to provide them with extra reassurance.
“Special cases like these require the parent to show confidence and competency in taking care of themselves so that the child will feel okay leaving them for periods of time,” explains Dr. Sharma. It is helpful to get the child used to being away from the parent for small periods of time before school starts – building the length of the separation each day.
If anxious behavior is going on for longer than two weeks, consult a pediatrician for further evaluation.