The start of a new school year can cause anxiety for children, adolescents, and parents. Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County would like to share a few tips to ease the transition of summer vacation to returning back to school. The following tips are meant to assist children with alleviating symptoms of school anxiety.
- Address Back to School Jitters. Parents and caregivers should not assume they understand the reason behind their child’s back to school jitters. An open discussion with children and adolescents allows them an opportunity to explore their feelings and concerns with a trusted individual. Parents are then able to better direct support where it is needed. For example, a child may be having concerns about not being able to make new friends during the school year. Parents can provide a supportive environment by reminding children of past successes in order to ease their anxiety. According to Tara Gleeson, pediatric nurse practitioner at Goryeb Children’s Hospital, parents may wish to encourage their child to think about what are the things they are most looking forward to about starting school and what they are not looking forward to once they go back to school.
- Restart Routines. Prepare approximately two weeks in advance in order to allow kids adequate time to adjust to a new schedule. Follow regular bedtimes and breakfast mealtimes, and maintain the same sleep schedule on the weekends. Kids generally have more flexibility during the summer months and will need extra time to adjust to going to bed earlier and waking up earlier in the mornings. Penn State Extension recommends making a few practice runs of the morning routine to ensure you and the children have plenty of time built into your schedule for getting to school on time.
- Go Over Ground Rules. Establishing guidelines prior to the beginning of the school year will ensure you and your children are on the same page once school is in session. The Scholastic website recommends going over tricky topics including: Can your child watch television after finishing homework? How late can friends visit on school nights? When and where should homework be completed? Discussing the rules beforehand will help children understand what is expected of them once they return back to school.
- Engage in Extracurricular Activities. Recreational activities outside of school are a great way for children to cope with stress and anxiety. Whether its sports, dance, theater, or science, extracurricular activities gives kids another arena to demonstrate mastery and competence, which is important to their self-esteem and identity development. According to the Child Mind Institute, older kids especially benefit from after school activities because it provides a form of protection against dangerous behaviors including substance abuse.
- Manage Your Own Anxiety. It’s important to maintain a positive attitude about summer ending and school starting, advises child psychologist Edward Christopherson, “If you are nervous about school starting, then your child is certainly going to be nervous about returning back to school.” Parents and caregivers also benefit from following the back to school tips because it provides structure and alleviates stress and confusion about what to expect once school begins.
Anxiety is a normal response to life stressors, however, if your symptoms are difficult to manage and interfering with your life, it is important to seek professional help. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues, we are here to help.