Many children dread going back to school in the fall, but for most of them, it’s a mere aversion to homework and mourning of the loss of free time. For other children, though, particularly tweens and teens, back-to-school can bring some feelings of real anxiety. The uncertainty of moving into middle or high school, social or academic difficulties, a poor experience the previous year — all of these can be factors adding to anxiety. Below are a few pointers on how to detect and help your child cope with back-to-school anxiety.
Talk about it.
This may seem obvious, but older children and teens are often easily embarrassed by talking about problems they’re having, especially fear. Though they may resist speaking to their parents about it initially, talking about it can be extremely helpful. Try to avoid implying you know exactly how they feel — even if you feel certain you do. Tweens and teens want to be heard, and often, in their minds, they’re the only ones who have ever felt this way. Psychology Today suggests offering up an example from your own life without indicating it applies directly to them., i.e. “I don’t know if this has happens to you, but I remember….” Simply naming anxiety for what it is gives it less power.
Enlist an older sibling or friend for support.
If you have an older child, or know an older child you trust, see if you can enlist them to keep an eye out for your anxious child. Perhaps by distracting him or her as they walk in the building by talking to them, encouraging them throughout the day with a high five or nudge, or simply checking in with them in the hallway. Having someone they know and trust there with them who has their back can be a huge help.
If you can determine that your child’s fears are logistical, practicing ahead of time can be a huge help. Whether it’s using a combination lock or finding his/her classes, doing a practice round or two can keep the butterflies at bay.
Find a Point Person
If your child’s anxiety is extreme, find a point person at the school to check on him or her throughout the day, preferably a school counselor or teacher with whom they are familiar. Introduce your child in person if they are not already familiar and inform your child that he or she can find this person if they become overwhelmed or need help. Of course, if the anxiety is crippling or significantly interfering with your child’s day-to-day, consulting a professional counselor outside of school should also be a plan of action.
Make a Plan
Creating a plan outside of the moment of anxiety gives some sense of control back to the child experiencing the anxiety in the moment. When he or she has a go-to action or set of actions, the anxiety can become less overwhelming and more manageable. Sometimes even the simple act of having a plan or walking through the scenario outside of the actual moment can cause anxiety to go down. Whether it’s arming them with a verse of scripture to repeat to themselves, a fidget toy to distract their mind or help them focus, a prayer or even rituals like writing down what they’re feeling or breathing slowly and deeply can help tremendously. Psychology Today also suggests writing the plan on an index card for them to keep with them, noting again that sometimes even just having the plan in their back pocket (literally) can reduce anxiety.
Finally, but most importantly, pray — with your child and for your child. Pray that the Holy Spirit would give them a peace that surpasses understanding and strength to walk through the day resting in Him. That He would bless your child with the faith to cast all their anxieties on Him and trust in His promises and love for them.