Dealing With Back-to-School Anxiety

A new study says talking about it with your kids helps soothe September jitters. Plus, discover five tips for addressing back-to-school anxiety.

Sad girl on a bus

As kids head back to school this fall, it’s not uncommon for some to feel those uncomfortable “butterflies” the first few days, weeks or even longer.

Most of us are familiar with that nervous feeling – and it’s usually temporary. But it still helps to prepare for it and talk our kids through it, experts say, and a new study confirms just that.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, tracked 1,300 sixth-grade students: one group who received a neutral reading and writing assignment and a second group who were asked to read and write about the middle school transition, their fears and how they could deal with them, Wisconsin Public Radio reports.

The second group had fewer disciplinary incidents, increased attendance and fewer failing grades, the study found – suggesting that acknowledging and dealing with any school-related anxiety could be critical.

“It speaks to the power of addressing the pre-school anxiety up front,” Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, a clinical psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, told WPR.

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If you’re concerned about your child’s back-to-school transition and looking for ways to approach it head-on, consider these tips:

1. Don’t avoid the topic

As the study reinforces, it’s best to address feelings of anxiety directly. A Harvard Medical School article points out that helping your child avoid situations that bring on anxiety won’t necessarily help.

“Instead, acknowledge your child’s emotion and then help her think through small steps she might take to approach, rather than avoid, her worries,” the article notes.

2. Practice coping strategies

Teach your kids strategies like “mindful breathing,” Mirgain suggests in the WPR article, like taking three deep breaths to help calm yourself down.

3. Revisit feelings when needed

When your child is upset, remember to validate their concerns rather than dismissing them, a recent Metro Parent feature explains. Then revisit the issue with your child when they are ready to talk about their feelings.

4. Communicate with the school

If your child is struggling with anxiety, let their teacher, principal or social worker know that he or she might need extra support, the Child Mind Institute recommends.

“You’re not asking for a lot — just a little exposure that will set him up to succeed. And you’d like the staff to be alert to signs that he might need an assist,” the organization suggests.

5. Find support

Therapy, a support group or other interventions may be helpful in addressing your child’s anxiety. Let your child know it’s OK to ask for help.

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