It’s that time again. A new school year is beginning and families are gearing up for the transition.
For some, the return to a set schedule with early morning cups of coffee, volleyball practice and homework is embraced as inevitable. For others, there is anxiety associated with the sound of that first-morning bell.
Anxiety among teens and adolescents is common, with prevalence ranging from 4% to 20%. Further, there are different types of anxiety; it can show up differently for everybody. Symptoms to watch out for can include increased irritability, changes in sleep patterns and loss of appetite. Other symptoms can include headaches, stomachaches and/or restlessness.
Starting a new school year can bring with it lots of unknowns for students. Will I like my teachers? Do I know where my classes are? Will I have lunch with my friends?
One way guardians can help their kids is simply by modeling—a calm demeanor, managing your own stress and not taking on too much can help with diminishing the transfer of stress between household members.
Having a set routine before the first day of school can also help. When teens are out of sync with their normal schedule (staying up late and/or sleeping in), it can increase anxiety. Going to the school’s open house, walking the halls, finding classrooms, meeting teachers or even driving the bus route can alleviate feelings of the unknown and help students develop a script around what to expect.
Communicating with specific school staff members, including the school counselor, an aide, the school psychologist or even the school nurse, can also be helpful and provide support for your child.
When broaching a conversation about school, try asking open-ended questions such as, “How are you feeling about the school year starting?” vs. closed questions such as, “Are you nervous about meeting your new teacher?” By being open and simply listening, you can validate your child’s feelings without reinforcing the fears being expressed. Providing the time and space for your teens to simply talk, free of judgment, can help them feel empowered and gain confidence.
Remember that feeling worried and/or anxious when you are starting something new is, to some degree, completely normal. Implementing a few of these suggestions could prove helpful in supporting your student in mitigating feelings of back-to-school anxiety. If the feelings of anxiety continue to persist and begin affecting other aspects of your child’s life, reaching out to a mental health professional for extra support is also a great idea.
Megan Bradley is a clinical intern with Bainbridge Youth Services