Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Back-to-School Worries

Recognize common worries kids have about returning to school.

We’re getting very close to back-to-school time. This can be an exciting, but also an anxious time for kids and parents. I’ll be writing a number of articles on school-related issues over the next few weeks. Today, let’s look at common concerns kids experience at different stages of their academic life.


  • Being away from home, possibly for the first time. “I'll miss my mommy too much.”
  • A new place; a new teacher. “Will I know where to go? Will I remember my teacher’s name?”
  • New children to get to know – “Who will play with me?”
  • Being in a structured setting, possibly for the first time – “What are the rules? What if I forget what I'm supposed to do?”

Elementary school

  • New and unfamiliar teachers.
  • Possibly less intimate environment than in preschool.
  • A bigger school building may be intimidating.
  • Finding the bathroom, the cafeteria, and so on.
  • May have to ride the bus for the first time.
  • Increased pressure to be popular, especially in later grades.
  • Friends may be separated into different classrooms.
  • May be overwhelmed by the increase stimulation.
  • May come home tired and cranky after “holding it together" all day at school.
  • Shyness and anxiety begin to be noticed by peers, and in our culture are not generally valued.

Middle school

  • A new and larger school, perhaps farther away.
  • Children from many different elementary schools getting grouped into one middle school – lots of unfamiliar faces.
  • Changing classrooms and teachers for every subject.
  • Little time between classes; hallways and bathrooms may be crowded.
  • Dealing with lockers.
  • May have to dress out for physical education class.
  • Increase in teasing and bullying.
  • Dealing with lunch – no more assigned seating and less adult supervision
  • More social expectations – extracurricular activities, school dances come and so on.
  • An increase in cliques.



  • Rapid physical and hormonal growth can lead to greater awkwardness and self-consciousness.
  • Emotions tend to fluctuate, sometimes extremely.
  • More complex social relationships; pressure to date.
  • Pressure to conform; experimentation with alcohol and drugs.
  • Increased academic pressures.
  • Possibly dealing with part-time jobs.
  • Identity issues: Who am I?

The lists above are certainly not all inclusive, but they will give you an idea of the range of concerns kids can experience at different ages.

So what can you do now?

So what can you do now?

Support your child by using what's called active listening. This type of listening involves putting your own agenda on hold and trying instead to identify and understand what your child is saying.

Here are some guidelines:

  • While listening, try to put yourself in your child's shoes. Focus on what he or she is feeling, not just what it said.
  • Accept your child's right to have his or on thoughts and feelings.
  • Demonstrate your acceptance through your posture, tone of voice, and facial expressions.
  • While listening, try to avoid asking questions, expressing your own opinions, offering solutions, or making judgments.
  • After your child is finished speaking, summarize and restate the most important thoughts and feelings that were expressed.

This type of listening may seem a bit awkward at first. Don't worry, though. It will feel more natural with practice. If your savvy child looks at you funny or questions you about what you're doing, it's fine to say something like, "I realized I may not always listen as well as I should, and I'm trying to do better."

By listening and helping your child talk about feelings, you're taking away some of the sting of anxiety and setting the stage for future problem-solving.


Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you
 from doing all the things in life 
you’d like to.

–Ask, by The Smiths (Read how we named our blog.)

Let’s Keep in Touch!

To subscribe to my posts via e-mail, click here.

Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

I am the co-author of Dying of Embarrassment, Painfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy Child. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. I’ve also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Afraid of People. My husband, Greg, and I also co-authored Illuminating the Heart: Steps Toward a More Spiritual Marriage.

Photos: Pink Sherbet Photography, CC

More from Barbara Markway Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today