Every fall, the transition back to school can be a source of stress or anxiety, and children entering a new school may be even more prone to these feelings as they wonder what the experience will be like. Whether a child is starting a new school or just experiencing the normal fears about the upcoming school year, parents may notice a change in a child’s behavior or temperament as the start of school approaches. They may worry about getting lost in a new building, not finding friends or having to sit alone in the cafeteria. These worries can manifest in physical symptoms, and a child may complain of headaches, stomach aches or inability to sleep.
It’s important to help children work through this stress because it can easily have implications on their ability to learn in the classroom. When a child is nervous about the upcoming lunch period and if he’ll have to sit alone again, it’s difficult to focus on the math or reading assignment in front of him. Children’s mental health is foundational to their ability to experience academic and social success in school.
While the transition from summer into the new school year can be stressful for both children and parents, the following tips can help reduce the stress of back-to-school preparations.
- Acclimate your children to their new sleep schedule a week or two before school starts. It’s often difficult to adjust to early mornings after a summer of sleeping in or staying up late. Children are better able to deal with stress and change when they are healthy and well-rested.
- Buy your child’s school supplies early and consider selecting them with the child. Help the child label everything and organize her backpack. Use the opportunity for her to verbalize excitement or fears about the new school year.
- Before classes begin, visit the school to help alleviate the child’s fear of becoming lost in the new school. If your child is especially anxious about the first day, ask if you can visit their classroom and spend a few minutes with the teacher beforehand. This will also help there be less “unknowns” for the child.
- If a child is transitioning from elementary into middle school, help them prepare by discussing some of the differences between the schools, such as more complex homework, changing classes every period, having more than one teacher and using a locker.
- Once school starts, check in with your children about their day so you can uncover areas in which they may be struggling. Show an interest in what your child is learning in the classroom and be a sounding board as she works through challenging homework and navigates new friendships. If your child struggles to make new friends, consider enrolling her in extracurricular activities, which can defuse stress, build self-confidence and meet new people.
If you have ongoing concerns about your child’s social, emotional or behavioral development, voice your thoughts with your child’s teachers and school counselors. Children who receive early intervention will learn coping skills for success and will be less likely to fall behind academically.
Note: This information should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of a mental health condition. Call 612-871-1454 to learn more about Washburn Center’s mental health services for children.