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Back to School Anxiety in Children

August 29, 2022

Some kids seem to be more anxious about going back to school than others. It might be a combination of COVID and all the other crazy viruses, the threat of school violence, or maybe just being away from their family and home.

Feelings of anxiety are 100% normal and should be expected during times of transition. While a lot of people think of separation anxiety as a problem that affects toddlers and preschoolers, we also see it in much older kids.

Some children (and even adults) seem to be more naturally inclined toward anxious thoughts and feelings than others. While most people experience some level of worry, high levels of anxiety can be disruptive socially, emotionally, and physically.

What are some signs of an anxious child?
When you are worried, you often don’t have an appetite (or, like me, stress eat!), it’s hard to get to sleep or stay asleep, they can be clingy and irritable, and they can have physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches. Anxiety takes a lot of energy, so often they will want to isolate and avoid normal daily activities.

What can parents do if their child is particularly anxious?

It’s important that children do attend school. Missing school because of anxiety takes away the child’s chance to see themselves get control over their anxiety. It can also prevent them from developing friendships, enjoying a successful school day, and developing a relationship with their teachers. The parent-teacher relationship is so paramount to helping kids succeed emotionally and academically. If you notice your child struggling academically, socially, or emotionally, reach out to your child’s teacher. If you have questions about the classroom or your child’s progress, reach out! You do not need to wait for the first parent-teacher conference to make contact. If the anxiety is significant and doesn’t reduce after a while, the parent should always seek help from a professional. It’s better to intervene early than to have your child (and family) struggle all year.

Make daily conversations and check ins a priority with your children, before hard situations happen. The conversations get easier once families get in the routine of talking.

Start now. Be intentional about talking to your kids, at least 10 minutes a day. Face to face, dinner time, or car time is great. Just remember that it should be focused time where you are asking them questions, listening, sharing your thoughts and feelings. By teaching them how to communicate with you now, you are preparing them to be so much more comfortable in communicating with you later when the much harder topics arise.

"I ask my kids to tell me 2 Hots and a Not. They tell me two things that went right and one thing that wasn’t so hot. It’s just something I made up that we have done for years. It's predictable and we do it every day, so they are thinking all day about what they’re going to remember and tell me. Their friends even get in the car and love to chat away."

What if parents have concerns about how their child is doing, emotionally and academically.

If something just doesn’t seem right, what is the first step a parent should take?
Parents with concerns can contact a mental health provider like CHE who can offer an evaluation of your child’s functioning and work with you to find strategies that will benefit your child and your family.

Dr. Dana Watson
VP of Quality Assurance, CHE Behavioral Health Services

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