Back-to-school anxiety: signs to look for and how to beat it

Teen AnxietyWith back-to-school season just around the corner, children are watching the final days of summer vacation slip away as the first day of school looms ahead. This naturally calls for a mix of excitement, nervousness and – in most cases – anxiety. Students of all ages often struggle with anxiety when preparing for the school year ahead as fears of the unknown flood their mind.

Who will be their teacher? Will they have friends in their classes? Will they get picked on?

As a parent, friend or loved one, there are proactive steps you can take to combat back-to-school anxiety and give children the confidence they need to excel in school. Rene Czerwinski, Licensed Mental Health Counselor from Pacific Medical Centers, provides insight on how to identify signs of anxiety in children and tools to equip them for success throughout the school year.

Czerwinski says the typical reasons for anxiety vary by age, but can stem from a variety of concerns such as the quantity of homework, if the teacher will be strict or mean, if the student will fit in or make friends, and the overwhelming stress of school sports tryouts. Thankfully, parents can help alleviate these concerns prior to the school year through consistent emotional and mental support.

“Patience is first,” explains Czerwinski. “This includes helping your child set up a bedtime routine at least two weeks before school starts and having consistent on-on-one conversations about your child’s day. It’s important to provide your undivided attention during this time and eliminate television, cell phones or any other distractions. Validate your child’s concerns and let them know they have your support and can come to you with any issues.”

Once school starts and children fall into a new routine, monitor your child’s anxiety levels and behavior to determine if it improves or declines. Bullying at school is a common source of anxiety for children, and being able to identify signs of bullying during the initial stages is key to protecting your child from long-term effects.

Czerwinski shares signs parents should watch out for, such as unexplained injuries, lost or damaged clothing, missing books or electronics, frequent headaches, stomach aches or “fake” illnesses to stay home from school. Victims of bullying experience severe anxiety and will also struggle with nightmares, depression, weight loss or weight gain, and inconsistent mood swings.

If you think your child is a victim of bullying, you can provide support by educating them on the need to set boundaries, what disrespectful and dangerous behavior looks like, and how to respond appropriately. Additionally, these situations present an opportunity to counsel children on their reactions to these situations. For example, teaching them how to walk away from a threatening situation and advising them not to retaliate with foul language or name calling. If your child witnesses bullying at school, remind them to speak up for others and report these incidences to an adult or faculty member immediately.

If bullying becomes a recurring issue for your child and you start to notice the impact on their personal wellbeing, it’s crucial for parents to get involved and address the issue directly with the school.

“One of the most important points when working directly with the school administration is to remain respectful while expressing your concern,” Czerwinski says. “The administration is on your side and will appreciate your honest feedback. Plan to come to the meeting with specific examples and determine a plan of action together before leaving to ensure there is a strategy in place for resolving the issue.”

While identifying and addressing bullying is imperative to your child’s wellbeing, teaching and empowering your child to stick up for others and not bully is equally as important. Educate your child on how to set boundaries and lead by example, while encouraging an attitude of respect and acceptance for others and their differences.

By following these tips from Czerwinski, we can inspire a younger generation to develop healthier and safer communities both inside and outside of the classroom.