Back to school anxiety

Summer has come to an end and children have returned to school. Most children experience some anxiety with the end of summer and school resuming, particularly those who are starting school for the first time or even changing schools. Some children, however, experience extensive anxiety that may require professional treatment. There are a number of warning signs that your child may experience more than the typical anxiety in anticipation of returning to school. For more information, please view Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s article on everydayhealth.com., but the following is a general overview.

  • First, children may be overly clingy with parents in the weeks prior to school starting. Children may resist separation from parents, even when presented with opportunities for fun experiences that do not include parents.
  • Second, children may experience a variety of complaints, such as stomachaches, headaches, or other somatic pains.
  • Third, many children begin to experience sleep problems, or existing sleep issues may be exacerbated.
  • Fourth, children may express more intense or constant anxiety with the anticipation of school.
  • Lastly, children may begin to avoid social situations in lieu of staying home, in what they consider to be a safe environment.

Parents are cautioned not to tell their children not to worry because doing so invalidates children’s feelings and discourages them from sharing such feelings with parents. Many parents respond to children’s anxiety by allowing them to miss days of school, which may decrease children’s anxiety on the day of missed school, but in the long run, makes anxiety about going to school significantly worse and makes it less likely that children will return to school.

Even though it feels uncomfortable for parents, the best way to support children with anxiety about school is to empathize with their anxiety, but to maintain the expectation that children will go to school despite the anxiety. It is very important for parents to ascertain what at school is causing children’s anxiety, such as difficulty with academics or with social situations. Parents are strongly urged to contact a therapist with expertise in cognitive-behavioral therapy, an evidence-based treatment for anxiety disorders in children, if the anxiety persists after the first few weeks of school.