The sound of the bell, the smell of the chalk dust, the wide-eyed look on every face–this time of year generates excitement for everybody as children return to school in their new school clothes with their shiny, new back packs, ready to take on another school year! But “back to school” can also be anxiety inducing words.
Kids are excited to see old friends and meet their teachers, but for many children there is also fear and anxiety about how they will be perceived. This can cause concern and hardship for parents as they try to understand what their child is really feeling. As the anxiety level increases, each individual child will behave differently–some will withdraw, become pouty or isolate themselves, others will become overly silly and cause disruption in school as well as at home. Either withdrawing or becoming disruptive or attention seeking can lead to a rough start to school and impact relationships with friends and teachers and ultimately your child’s ability to learn academically and socially.
Some Helpful Tips
Before school starts, talk to your children about their feelings and anxiety about school and let them know that it is a normal thing to be nervous as you meet new people and become familiar with a new routine. Even though your child might have been going to the same school for years, remember that it is still a new classroom and new teacher. Establish a routine before school starts that will be similar to when school starts, including a school year bed time and waking time. Meals are also important and eating appropriately and without hurrying can help a child feel well and learn better. If you have a chance to visit the school with your child before the first day, that can help them feel more familiar and secure about where they will be going on the first day and will decrease their nervousness. Most importantly take time to talk with your child about school and his or her fears and help him or her understand that everyone is meeting the new school year with the same anxiety and excitement.
The same holds true for all children–even junior high and high school students. However, older children have peer groups that have a much larger influence on them than the younger age groups. Teens tend to experience more pressure to fit in and wear the new clothes or do the silly things that their friends might be doing. For parents, your most important tactic is to keep an open communication channel with your son or daughter as they enter into adolescence. Keep in mind the pressure they experience to maintain their social status and try to understand the perception of themselves they may have.
Most of us can remember what it was like to be an adolescent and faced with peer pressure—including around drugs and alcohol. Some kids will try to calm their anxiety and fears through substance use and this could lead to unhealthy habits and potentially addictive behaviors. Establish clear expectations and set up a time for the two of you to touch base every day. Just as with the younger kids, be sure to continue with routines and boundaries for your teen as they head into the school year. Routines and open communication will help them not only feel supported but connected so they don’t have to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. The ability to communicate and discuss these issues will help your child throughout their school years and life time.
Welcome back to school–and may those never be words to fear!
Justin Murgel has been with Intermountain for over 13 years in a variety of positions including as in-home care coordinator and counselor in multiple programs and as manager of Day-Treatment. He is currently the Chief Business Officer at Intermountain. Murgel is a graduate of University of Montana—Western. He and his wife, Sara are parenting two daughters.