Change can be difficult, regardless of age, and often accompanied by fear of the
unknown and a sense of loss of control. However, developmentally, change may be
harder for kids to process.

As their brain continues to develop, specifically the logical thinking part of their brain, children can experience increased anxiety when dealing with transitions such as returning to school from summer vacation or even
short breaks.

As a board-certified child & adolescent psychiatrist and a mother, I have witnessed this firsthand with both my clients and my own children, often seeing a rise in people seeking mental health services in August before the new school year begins.

Taren Coley, MD. HopeWay’s Director of Child & Adolescent Services

A universal feeling

Most children, from elementary school to college-aged, will experience some
anxiety related to going back to school. This is very normal.

However, normal worry and anxiety can be exacerbated for children dealing with mental health diagnoses like an anxiety disorder, depression, autism or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Although anxiety is a universal feeling, the way anxiety manifests typically changes based on age.

For younger kids, you may observe more tantrums, acting out, crying and whining, and older kids may experience consuming thoughts or anxious spiraling.

Battling back-to-school anxiety

As caregivers, there are several ways we can support and prepare our children for
these transitions. Below are some suggestions I have recommended to the clients
and families I work with and have tried with my own family.

  1. Get back into a routine. During summer, it is normal (and good) to change
    up the routine. That usually means later bedtimes and sleeping in. To prepare
    for the start of school, get back to a normal sleep schedule and more
    structured mealtimes.
  2. Manage expectations. Create a calendar that shows what activities your
    family has coming up and how many more days until the first day of school.
    This is a good visual reminder to help decrease fear of the unknown.
  3. Create open lines of communication. Set aside intentional time to check
    in with your child, such as at the dinner table or before bedtime. Ask open-
    ended questions to encourage conversation.
  4. Encourage journaling. Depending on your child’s age, writing can be an
    effective way to express emotions and feelings.
  5. Manage your own worries as a caregiver. Going back to school may
    mean increased stress for you as well. Be cognizant of how you manage your
    own stress. This can serve as a good example for your child.
  6. Communicate with the school. It is important to share any observations or
    concerns you have about your child with their school. Collaboration is key to
    best supporting your child.
  7. Reach out to a professional. If you are concerned about your child’s
    behavior and/or mental health, contact their pediatrician or a mental health

We all know change is inevitable. Helping kids learn how to manage and navigate
transitions early in life will only continue to benefit them as they get older.
Interested in learning more about building resilient youth?

Click here for more information about HopeWay’s upcoming George C. Covington Educational Event, “The Sooner, The Better: Addressing Today’s Adolescent Mental Health Crisis,” on Wednesday, September 13th.

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