Beating the Back-to-School Blues

During the first month of school, anxiety and depression can ramp up for students. A pediatrician with Shelby Pediatric Associates & Child Lung Center offers advice for parents on helping kids overcome their back-to-school blues.

With a season of summertime fun behind them, kids have ditched their beach bags for book bags and headed back to class. While the new school year brings excitement for some students, there are many who struggle with a case of back-to-school blues.

“It is extremely common and there’s varying degrees of it,” says Dr. Zeena Al-Rufaie, a pediatrician at Shelby Pediatric Associates & Child Lung Center. “We do see it all the time, and very often we can just work through it and talk to the child about it.”

During the first month of school, depression and anxiety are particularly prevalent as kids adjust to their routines. Here, Dr. Al-Rufaie offers insight on signs to look for and how to help your children – from preschool to high school – overcome their school struggles.

Signs of stress

Your littlest one is starting preschool and with that milestone comes tears. “They are afraid to leave their parents,” she says. “Reassure them you’re going to be there at the end of the day.”

It’s a big step for your preschooler, she says, but the child should adjust in about a month. To help them cope, pack a photo or their favorite toy in their backpack, and don’t stick around too long during drop-off.

“When drop-off happens, make it short and sweet. Tell them you love them but don’t linger too long,” she says.

For elementary students who are transitioning to middle school, “expectations are different,” Dr. Al-Rufaie says. Your child who was used to one teacher in one classroom now has several teachers in different classes. It’s intimidating and common for them to feel a bit of anxiety.

However, when that anxiety manifests itself as health issues, parents should take note. Stomachaches and headaches are more vague signs that your student is struggling with back-to-school. If your child is getting stomachaches from Monday through Friday but not on the weekends, it can be easy to assume he is faking ill. But, Dr. Al-Rufaie says, those aches could be linked to anxiety.

For older students who used to get As but are now getting Cs, there could be something going on emotionally.

“If you notice their mood is overall changing or they don’t want to hang out with their friends,” she says, it’s time to check in with your child to see how he or she is feeling about the new school year.

Beating the blues

Getting back into routines isn’t just tough on kids. Parents have an adjustment period, too. Dr. Al-Rufaie suggests staying positive and to avoid saying things like, “I hated school, too. I feel sad for you,” to your child who is struggling.

Instead, talk to your child. “Really get to the root of the cause,” she says. “That’s the most important thing.”

Touch base with your child’s teacher, too, for insight on their in-class behavior.

If you struggled in middle school, for example, and think your child might be struggling too, don’t hesitate to contact their pediatrician.

“If parents recognized that when they were young, they had their own trouble in school, or they start to see those signs in their child, they can be proactive and bring their child in ahead of time,” she says.

The pediatrician might suggest counselors who can help children deal with these issues. “We do some counseling and kids do great,” she says. Typically it is temporary, but there could also be a need to introduce medication to children who are struggling on a long-term basis.

Breathing exercises and finding an outlet – like participating in an after-school activity such as an art class or sport – are other ways to help kids cope.

Sleep is important, too, she adds. Kids ages 3 to 5 need 13 hours, ages 6 to 12 need nine hours and teenagers require between eight and 10 hours of sleep per night. “Lack of sleep can lead to behavior problems,” so getting on track is imperative.

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