For many kids, the end of summer and the beginning of school is something to look forward to, but for some, it can trigger a case of school anxiety. Children may be unwilling to get on the bus for the first day of classes or might cry when they talk about starting school.
There can be many reasons for this separation anxiety and the resulting back to school fears: a move to a new house, an attachment figure’s illness, or a friend who has moved away. Kids may also worry over how they will do in school or if they will make new friends.
School Anxiety Causes
One of the most common triggers for back to school anxiety is starting school for the first time. First of all, any separation from a parent can be scary, especially if the child is used to being at home all day with them. In addition, school days are very organized – the child has to adhere to a schedule and do tasks and lessons at prescribed times, and these set routines can add stress.
For teens and older children who have been in school before, back to school anxiety is often directly related to their worries about how well they will do in the upcoming school year. They may be concerned about having to answer questions in class or might fear being asked to read aloud in front of their peers. In some cases, a child may have been made fun of at school or might have been the target of a bully the previous year, so they feel anxious about the possibility of this happening again in the new school year.
Even teens who are starting college may have some school anxiety, despite the fact they want you to think they are above something so “childish”. Leaving home for the first time, not having their parent around to fall back on, and having to adjust to a new world can all be nerve-wracking for a teen.
Back To School Anxiety Symptoms
If your child is apprehensive the start of classes, they will show pretty obvious symptoms. Back to school anxiety is likely present if they have:
- Nausea or stomachaches
- A racing heartbeat
- Need to use the bathroom more frequently
Some of the things you can do to help your child with school anxiety include:
- Telling them you love them and that you will see them after school each day.
- Role playing situations they may encounter so that they will be better able to deal with it if something happens.
- Letting them know they are brave for going to school despite their fears. Tell them you are proud of them.
- Reassuring the child that the first couple of days will be hard, but that things will be okay once they get settled in.
- Visiting the new school with your child a few days before the start of classes, so they are somewhat acquainted with the building and their teacher.
- Sticking to a familiar routine to make the child less anxious.
- Talking about things that they can look forward to, both within and outside of school.
Coping With Parental Anxiety About A Child Starting School
We think of children as being the only ones who suffer from first day jitters, but many parents also have anxiety over the start of school. They’ve been their child’s protector, entertainer, and advocate all summer, so you would think these parents would be looking forward to getting a break.
Many parents actually dread seeing their kids head back to class, though, particularly those who have children starting kindergarten or whose teens are going off to college. Their worry over sending their “baby’ off to the unknown kicks in, leaving them with their own version of separation anxiety.
If this sounds like you, don’t feel alone. It is perfectly natural to be distressed over this milestone. Even so, here are some of the most common parental fears, along with ideas that can help reassure you that everything will be fine:
- Fearing that the child will be scared. Sure, your child may be nervous, but seeing that you are worried can make them wonder if there is something to be afraid of. Instead, show your child that you are calm and excited for them to take this new step. Try to keep in mind that they will be so busy learning new things and making new friends that they will be distracted and less likely to be afraid once they get to school and begin their day.
- Worrying that the child will get lost. After all, your kid is going off into to what seems like a huge building – how will they ever find their way around? Remember that schools deal with this all the time. They have teachers in place (especially during the first few days of school) to direct students to classrooms and to help them find the correct bus at the end of the day. For added reassurance, you can visit the school with your child a couple of days before classes start, when the teachers are getting their rooms ready. You both can meet their new teacher, plus you can tour the school to find their classroom, the bathroom, the lunch room, etc.
- Fearing that the child will be bullied. Let’s face it, kids can be cruel, even starting at a young age. The best way to address your concerns to have a serious talk with your child. Let them know that it is not okay for someone to be mean. Try some role playing with your child so they can learn how to respond if another child isn’t nice to them. Teach them to walk away from the bully. Practice how they should tell a teacher or another adult about the situation.
If School Anxiety Symptoms Don’t Resolve
For most kids, the uncertainties surrounding the start of classes will fade away as they get used to the routine of a new school year. If these fears don’t go away within four weeks, however, or if your child has school anxiety that is inappropriate to their developmental level or age, they may really have school refusal.
School refusal is not an “actual” diagnosis, instead it is a result of the child or teen having a deeper issue, such as a separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or a social phobia.
If you think your child has developed a school phobia, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. The longer their school refusal continues, the harder it can be to treat.
We Can Help
To get help for your child’s school anxiety or school refusal, talk with a compassionate child psychologist at Children’s Center for Psychiatry, Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida. Contact us or call us for more information at (561) 223-6568.