Back to School Anxiety: How to Stop it Before the First Bus Ride
The time has come to swap swimming-lesson towels and sunscreen with notebooks and pencil boxes as kids of all ages – along with mom and dad – make the transition from summer’s fun to the routines of school.
The change can be tough, but knowing where the anxiety comes from – and that it’s not uncommon – can help everybody get ready for class. Avera Behavioral Health Clinical Therapist Lawrence Ling said from kindergarten to grad school students: expect the stress, and manage it with some easy approaches.
“One hundred percent of kids will have some anxiety,” he said. “Most anxiety in students comes from the big transitions – elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school. This is due of the rise of peer pressure through adolescence. “
That anxiety changes as we get older, Ling said, and for college students, the change in independence fuels an excitement that can be overwhelming at times.
“College students are more mature. They’re more excited,” said Ling. “Accountability comes a lot more into play as students go through college, and their anxiety comes from the pressure to perform.”
Parents are not immune; the transition from summer to school may bring them anxiety as well. This is, in part, due to mom and dad making up the strongest support system for their child or children. Sending them off, knowing they have worries, can and will lead to some worries. Ling provided a few ways to help everyone regain their academic mindset sooner, without all the drama and concern:
Get to Bed: Integrate a sleep schedule as summer comes to a close, especially for young children, because good sleep can relieve stress and anxiety before it even starts. Rick Kooima, MD, a pediatrician at Avera Medical Group McGreevy 7th Avenue, said mom and dad can do this with a simple step.
“Four weeks before the summer ends, start sending kids to bed 30 minutes sooner per week,” said Kooima.“Students, starting at age 5, should have eight to nine hours of sleep each night, and while they won’t want to, it’s shown that adolescents should get even more sleep than that.”
Preview the school: Kids who go from a single-teacher setting to an environment where they have multiple teachers in different classrooms is a big change. Parents can take their students in advance to check things out and get a feel for the space. “It’s a great opportunity to ease some anxiety for both you and your student. Give them a feel for the new stomping grounds,” Kooima said.
Be the great parent you are: Ling said planning goes a long way toward reduced stress. “Be prepared and make sure things are lined up for that first day,” he said. “Talk up that first day and be confident in your child. Give support and encourage your kids as they go through this change.”
Give it time: Once school is in progress, absorb the complaints and talk about the worry, the whole time knowing it may take a while for them to get used to the changes. Ling said elementary school children usually adjust about a week in, while middle and high school student will get in their groves about two weeks into the year.
Know the signs of “too much”: Anxiety often leads to sleeplessness, agitation and changes in appetite. If these symptoms occur or continue as the school year progresses, call or visit your physician. Many children work their way through school transitions naturally. Provide support, listen and observe and be ready to seek help if you – or the young ones – seem to need it.