Easing Back-to-School Anxiety: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers

The end of the long summer holidays is approaching and while for some the return to school will be highly anticipated, for some young people, the change to routine and going back to the classroom can increase anxiety and potentially affect mental health and well-being.

For children for whom school has not always been a positive experience, or for those who thrive on very carefully planned routines (initially disrupted by schools closing for the summer, only to be changed again six weeks’ later), it can be a worrying time.

Even for those young people who may not previously have had significant concerns or worries about school, perhaps the move to senior school, or a new school, may prompt anxiety.

Some of this anxiety is absolutely normal and expected, but for some children, it can be overwhelming and impact their enjoyment of the rest of their break, and returning to school.

Some of the ways a child may express their anxiety once back at school, and which can indicate it may be a cause for concern and is causing them distress, could be:

  • Tantrums when separating from parents or caregivers to attend school
  • Difficulty getting along with family members or friends
  • Avoidance of normal activities in and outside of school
  • Symptoms such as stomach aches, fatigue, difficulty sleeping alone

So what can parents, families and carers do to support children for whom the return to school may be challenging? Preparation is key.

  • Around a week or two before school restarts, begin preparing the child for their upcoming change and transition. Start reverting back to school-year routines, set bedtimes and choose clothes for the following day, just like a school day.
  • Organising time, for example playdates or activities, with one or more peers they like spending time with before school starts. Research shows this can help adjustment back to school both academically and emotionally.
  • Pop to school before the new term begins. Talk about or ‘rehearse’ the drop off. If the building is open, spend time in the playground or in the classroom.
  • It can be helpful to support the young person to practice walking into class while you wait outside or in the hall.
  • Agree on a treat or activity that the young person can achieve.
  • And don’t forget to validate the child’s worries by acknowledging that, like any new activity, going back to school can be hard but soon becomes easy and fun again.

There are really helpful resources which can be found here