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Back to School Anxiety

Back-to-School Anxiety: Ways to Help Your Child Cope


A new school year can trigger feelings of anxiety in children of all ages. There are new classes, teachers, friends and pressures -- all mixed with the physical changes that come with growing up. As a parent, you are the first responder in your child’s life when they are feeling anxious.

First of all, anxiety isn’t always bad

Sources of anxiety
During the school year, a number of everyday occurrences can trigger feelings of anxiety in young people.

  • The need to fit in socially
  • Being bullied or witnessing bullying behavior
  • Academic pressures (to make good grades or do well on a particular test)
  • Athletic pressure (to make the team or to perform well on the field)
  • Life changes like entering a new school
  • Concerns about the future (being accepted to college, for example

There are several types of anxiety disorders

  • Generalized anxiety disorder – This condition involves excessive and/or unrealistic, often unprovoked worry and stress.
  • Social anxiety – This condition is associated with overwhelming self-consciousness or worry about being judged or humiliated in social situations.
  • Phobia – This is an intense fear of a specific situation or object that may lead to avoidance of everyday activities.
  • Separation anxiety – This is the most common anxiety condition in children and often involves fear that something will happen to family members, or to the child himself or herself, if they are apart.
  • Panic disorder – In this condition, feelings of intense fear strike suddenly and regularly, without warning. Physical symptoms like irregular heartbeats, muscle tightness, shortness of breath and sweating often occur.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – This type of anxiety takes the form of excessively preoccupying thoughts or repetitive actions performed to try to r
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – This condition results from a traumatic experience. Sufferers may have nightmares, flashbacks and unexplained fear

Signs your child is experiencing significant anxiety

  • Changes in mood or behavior, such as increased defiance or opposition in response to reasonable requests
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Decreased energy
  • Frequent irritability, sadness or crying
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Physical symptoms like nausea, muscle tension or dizziness
  • Unexpected negative change in grades and/or school refusal

5 tips to help manage your child's anxiety

  1. Ask questions/Be supportive – Validate and acknowledge any anxiety, and ask open-ended questions that your child cannot answer simply by responding “yes” or “no.” Pay attention to your child’s feelings and listen to his or her concerns.
  2. Set an example – Stay calm when your child becomes anxious about a situation. Children watch parents to learn rules for dealing with adversity, communicating with difficult people, problem-solving and managing interpersonal conflict. Show your child how to behave and how to feel about themselves, even in midst of anxiety.
  3. Modify your expectations and be flexible with plans during stressful periods.
  4. Praise accomplishments and limit punishing mistakes.
  5. Talk to your child’s doctor if you have additional concerns or if your child’s anxiety persists and begins to negatively impact daily functioning.