#BacktoSchool: Dealing with Worries and Stress

Tips from a psychologist on coping with school related anxiety.

Posted Aug 17, 2018

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Across the country, many children and adolescents have returned to school or will soon return to the classroom. This may lead to some distress for parents as they plan for the school year or anxiety for kids who are transitioning to new environments. Typical anxiety and worries are fairly common for children going to school for the first time. Even older children who are switching to a new school or grade may worry about making friends, doing well in their classes, or adjusting to a new teacher. On top of these concerns, some parents may have to ease their child’s stress surrounding fears related to gun violence given incidents with school violence over the last few years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2018), approximately 3 percent of youth ages 3 to 17 are identified as having an anxiety disorder. This represents the more extreme levels of worries that may be associated with concerns such as school refusal, separation anxiety, and worries about social situations. As a psychologist, I often discuss how anxiety is normal but under certain situations it makes it difficult for people to live a productive life. When it comes to kids, worries may lead to sleep difficulties, problems with concentrating, or result in irritability or frustration that results in anger.

Tips for Coping with Anxiety

Set up a sleep schedule. According to pediatricians, most children should get between 8-13 hours of sleep per night. It is important to get enough sleep to improve attention and concentration, memory, and overall mental health. When children don’t get enough sleep it can lead to more irritability and increased mental health issues.

Ask about worries and fears. It is common for parents or other adults to not notice anxiety. Because we often internalize our feelings, people may not recognize our fears unless we tell them. However, common signs of anxiety are stomachaches, difficulties breaking, avoidance of situations, and sleep difficulties. To find out about your child’s internal thoughts or anxiety, take a few minutes to ask a few questions.

  • What worries you about school?
  • Did you get stressed last school year?
  • What are you not excited about this school year?

Plan ahead. Often, worries and anxiety result from fear of the unknown or uncertainty. The more you can help kids think through possible situations and plan ahead, the more it can help to reduce anxiety. Identifying a plan in advance can ease negative thoughts and expectations. For example, if your child is transitioning to a new school, take the time to talk with them about how to deal with talking to new classmates or asking for help from their teacher.

Identify coping strategies. For parents, it seems realistic to encourage or force your child to confront anxiety. However, telling your child to “just get over it” or “things will be okay” may be easier said than done. Many children find it difficult to just push through without having some strategies to change their negative thinking or reduce physical body symptoms (such as increased breathing difficulties). Some simple suggestions to use include: teaching kids to use positive self-talk (such as "I can do this" and "I will be OK") or relaxation techniques such as including visualization (of floating on a cloud or lying on a beach) and deep breathing (imagining that the lungs are balloons and letting them slowly deflate).

  • For children with more serious concerns you should consider speaking with a mental health professional. The APA and Find a Psychologist provide resources for locating a therapist in your area. 
  • You should also visit Kids Health for additional resources and tools.

Copyright 2018 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.