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Back-to-school anxiety: expert advice for kids and parents

Starting a new school year can be nerve-wracking

mum child
Melanie Macleod
Wellness Editor
Updated: August 22, 2022
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With the summer holidays coming to a close, it's only natural for back-to-school anxiety to start creeping in.

MORE: 10 back to school traditions to start at home with your kids

As part of our Back To School digital issue, guest-edited by Alesha Dixon, we spoke to mental health experts about how to ease back-to-school anxiety, for both parents and children.

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Why causes back-to-school anxiety?

The first thing to do is reassure your child that it's totally normal to feel anxious before beginning a new school year.

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MORE: 10 best children’s books about anxiety for kids who worry

"The first day of school can be daunting for many reasons," explains Samantha Snowden, mindfulness meditation teacher at Headspace.

"Starting school involves big transitions such as shifting from summer mode, with unstructured time and loose rules, to school mode which involves schedules, expectations and attentiveness.


Reassure anxious children that worries are normal

"These different modes of operating can present difficulties for children who may have trouble sleeping as the start of the school year approaches," says Samantha.

Stepping into the unknown of a new school year is a great source of anxiety too, Samantha says. "Students will enter a new year, with new teachers and potentially new social groups.

READ: Productivity tips for parents: How to stop your day being all about the school run

"They may face anticipatory anxiety as they think ahead to all of the work and adjustments that will be required.

back to school worries© Photo: iStock

The new school year can feel overwhelming

How to ease back-to-school anxiety

Luckily, there are many tools that help calm the anxiety and stress of the new school year.

1. Take it one day at a time

"It’s helpful to remind your child to take the new term one day at a time," says Samantha.

"Explain how our bodies feel the stress of fearful and anxious thoughts as if we have to address them all at once. Help them to remind themselves that they can only do one thing at a time and to trust that when the time comes to confront a task or situation, they’ll have the inner resources needed to do it."

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2. Talk through the anxiety

"Take time with your child to reflect on and write out their worries and hopes for the new school year," suggests Samantha.

"This gives them a chance to air out and process their feelings and see that they are manageable, not something they have to suppress or handle on their own.

reassure children© Photo: iStock

Remind your child they'll get to see their friends at school

3. Chat about the days ahead

It might seem counter-productive to dwell on what is worrying your child, but it can be helpful in managing their anxiety.

"One thing that can be helpful if you have a child who is worried is to talk the 'big day' through in advance," says child psychologist, Dr. Sam Wass, from TV series The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds.

"When you’re together, the night before - cooking, or over dinner - it can be helpful to visualise exactly what’s going to be happening the next morning when they’re walking into school.

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"Talk about how everybody will be excited and nervous, and what nerves feel like in the body (a faster heartbeat, sweaty palms, shallow breathing, and so on)."

What if a child is too worried to go back to school - what should a parent do?

"Don’t panic! This type of thing is very normal and almost every child has a time at some point in their life when they announce that they don’t want to go back to school," says Dr. Wass.

"Schools are used to coping with this, so it’s worth letting the teacher now how the child is feeling.

"Children can often be much better at coaching each other to come back to school than parents, as they’re the best at understanding what it feels like." With this in mind, let your child's friends' parents know - we're sure a friendly face will help!

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