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Back-to-School Anxiety

"Guess who's also back this school year?"
By: Ma. Jocelyn A. Niere-Quidlat, MD, FPPSBack-to-School Anxiety

What is anxiety? Mr. Webster defines it as fear or nervousness about what might happen. Both children and adults experience anxiety day in and day out.  The feeling of anxiety is normal and may be expected during times of transition or change. The school is fun but going there for the first time may certainly make a child anxious.  In fact, it is not only the child who will feel it but the parents as well. Children and teenagers who have previously attended school are not exempt from such feelings.

Jeremy Pettit, an anxiety expert of Florida International University enumerates some red flags which parents can notice as signs of school anxiety. They are as follows: 

  • Trouble with sleep as the start of the school year approaches. 
  • Repeated requests for assurances that everything will be okay at school. 
  • Excessive checking and rechecking to make sure all school materials and supplies are in order.
  • Excessive repetition of directions, rules schedules, etc. to make sure they can be followed exactly.
  • Physical complaints. 
  • Irritability or mood swings as the start of school draw near. 
  • Social withdrawal and/or refusal to talk about school.
  • Once the school year starts, defiant refusals to go to school. 

If your child is extremely distressed about going back to school, you have to find time to discuss several issues with him. Look for the right time to do so – when he is calm and rested and not when he is upset or getting ready to go to school.

The UCLA Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Support Center shares some issues which you as parents can discuss with your child.

  • “Let’s think of some ways I can help make the transition back to school easier for you.”
  • “What do you enjoy about school?” 
  • “Is there anything in particular about this school year that is worrying you?”

The best way to avoid and deal with back-to-school anxiety is to take steps to ease your child’s concerns about the new school year. Some steps to help you and your child get ready for school are as follows:

  • Project a sense of confidence and understanding. 
  • Practice morning and evening routines.
  • Plan extra time to get out of the door in the morning.
  • Get everything in order in advance.
  • Give your child some choices.
  • Reach out to other parents and peers for support.

Make sure you consider all aspects that may cause the anxiety of your child. Some considerations would be:

  1. Has anything else happened recently that could be contributing to your child’s behavior such as a loss or illness of a family member or a fight with a close friend?
  2. Is he getting enough sleep and eating well?
  3. Does he seem to struggle with separation from you during other occasions? E.g. If he is left at home with a babysitter? Has he been throwing tantrums for other reasons?

Oftentimes your child will blend and adjust well to school after a couple of weeks in school.  In the event that the anxiety will not diminish and seems to increase as the days and weeks go on then, it will be best to seek professional.

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