Navigating Back to School Anxiety

Dr. Raunak Khisty
Dr. Raunak Khisty Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Riverside Medical Center

While going back to school can be an exciting time for some kids, others may struggle with anxiety as we head into a new school year. Kids starting the year at a new school or anxious about being away from their parents are especially vulnerable to feeling this back-to-school anxiety. For most kids, the anxiety they feel at the beginning of the school year will soon fade away, but there are ways to set yourself up for success.

Start with checking in on yourself. Your child can tell if you are nervous about school starting, so managing your stress is an excellent way to help them feel calm as well. The next step is critical in addressing any issue a child is going through – communication. There is no “one size fits all” approach to talking to your kids.

“Parents need to understand that they have to talk to their child at their developmental level. For example, you’re not going to talk to teenagers in the same way you’re going to talk to really young children,” explains Dr. Raunak Khisty, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Riverside Medical Center.

Make sure you are listening to your child’s worries. Sometimes kids need a little validation to feel better. For example, “I know how hard it is to get to know a new teacher.” By understanding their worries, you can help them by making a plan to handle anything specific they may be worrying them.

If your child is concerned about the first day of school, see if you can go to the school ahead of time to walk around together. Knowing where their classroom is or meeting their teacher before the school year starts can help reduce anxiety on the first day of school.

Another way to help with anxiety is to establish a routine. Consistent routines help build good habits, reduce stress, ease anxious feelings, and decrease irritability for parents and kids alike.

“Getting back to a routine is going to be very important. What time do you get up? What time do you go to school? You want to start modeling those situations. I think that’s going to be key in getting back to a routine,” states Dr. Khisty.

Suppose your child’s anxiety does not seem to go away as the school year progresses, interfering with their learning. In that case, it may be time to get support from a mental health professional. Some kids develop anxious headaches or stomachaches about school or may refuse to go altogether. A mental health professional will be able to assist you in figuring out why your child may be struggling and provide the support they need.

Returning to school may seem overwhelming for parents and kids, but no one has to do it alone. Most of the schools in the county have trained, professional social workers who can help. Riverside also offers mental health services which can be accessed by calling the 24/7 Central Intake Department at (844) 442-2551.