4 Causes of Back to School Anxiety and How to Help

A teen boy experiencing anxiety about going back to school.

For many kids, back to school is an exciting time for fresh school supplies, new outfits, and reconnecting with friends. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Some kids experience very real anxiety that can lead to a difficult first day, first week, or even an ongoing fear of school. These fears can be normal, however, if anxiety is already present, these normal fears become elevated. This is where anxiety treatment can come into play as a helpful tool. It’s important to understand the signs, symptoms, and what you can do to help your child. Learn more about what causes back to school anxiety and the practical steps you can take to overcome it.

What Causes Anxiety About Going Back to School?

1. New School

Most kids face some measure of back to school anxiety when starting a new school. There are so many unknowns about teachers, classmates, academic expectations, and even the schedule that can cause a child to be fearful. Especially in cases where the new school is significantly larger than the old one, has a more prestigious reputation, or is comprised of different student demographics, these fears can be amplified. For teens who already suffer from low self-esteem or have naturally elevated anxiety levels, starting a new school can be a traumatic time.

2. Transitional Time

Even if a kid is staying in the same school district, graduating from elementary school to middle school, or middle school to high school can be a cause for back to school anxiety. Leaving the comfort of known hallways, teachers, and expectations for the unchartered territories of a new academic stage can make a teen fearful. There can also be a level of discomfort during such transitions because kids are going from being the oldest grade in an elementary or middle school to the youngest grade in a middle or high school. It can be scary to face the opinions and potential judgment of a whole school of older kids.

3. Academic Struggles

Whenever a kid has a tough time learning, attending school can be a source of frustration and anxiety. While some put in extra time and effort to compensate for this difficulty, others simply become discouraged and give up on academics. Sitting in classes all day listening to confusing material would be defeating for anyone. A teen can have very understandable anxiety over facing another year of struggling and below-average grades. However, it’s important to pay attention to these struggles and determine if they are related to anxiety or if the struggles are related to the autism spectrum

 4. Peer Issues

A kid who doesn’t make friends easily is naturally introverted or suffers from low self-esteem can be more prone to the first day of school anxiety. When a teen is surrounded by peers and the resulting pressure to look, act and dress a certain way, some amount of anxiety is inevitable. Especially in cases where a kid has been bullied in the past or has documented behavioral issues, going back to school can be terrifying and a very real cause for concern.

A young student experiencing first day of school anxiety.

How to Properly Address the Issues Surrounding First Day of School Anxiety

In the case of back to school anxiety, ignorance isn’t bliss. Pretending there isn’t a problem or the issues are unfounded can only serve to frustrate a child and aggravate the situation. Here are four positive, productive ways to handle this type of anxiety. 

1. Stay Ahead of Schedule

Planning can make an incredible difference in a child’s anxiety about going back to school. If possible, get a class schedule ahead of time. This provides an opportunity to figure out who the teachers will be, where the classes will be held, and how to get around the school. There may be a way to schedule a visit to the school before the first day or participate in an orientation program. In addition to getting a feel for the school layout, this can also help set expectations and explain school rules.

2. Stay Healthy

Anxiety issues can be handled much more easily when a teen is getting an appropriate amount of sleep, eating the right kinds of food, and staying physically fit. There is no way a kid can be expected to face back to school in a productive, positive way without sleep or a healthy diet. Set your teen up for success by setting curfew guidelines and encouraging healthy meals and regular exercise. 

3. Stay Involved

Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. In fact, it usually only makes it worse. Talking to kids about feelings of anxiety can help them work through their emotions and fears. Most teens feel back to school anxiety on some level, and letting them know their feelings are normal and understandable can go a long way towards helping them overcome issues. Getting kids involved in extra-curricular clubs and activities can also help. It can be a wonderful way to meet peers with similar interests or talents and help them feel like they belong.

4. Seek Professional Help

Teens in a group therapy session for back to school anxiety.

In some cases, back to school anxiety can be severe enough to warrant professional treatment. If the anxiety is causing disruptions to a normal, healthy lifestyle, such as refusal to eat, trouble sleeping or uncontrollable emotional outbursts, it may be time to seek anxiety treatment. The best type of therapy can be something like:

 

 

A professional therapist can analyze and diagnose issues to help patients overcome anxiety. Especially in more severe cases, this can be necessary so anxiety doesn’t continue to be a problem throughout adulthood. 

Back to school should be a time of anticipation and fun, not anxiety and fear. Properly addressing back to school anxiety issues can allow them to be solved so the school can be a place for friends and learning. Help kids correctly cope with anxiety issues to give them their best chance of success at school and in life. If your child needs help, schedule a confidential counseling appointment today and let Highland Springs Specialty Clinic help out.

AUTHOR: Julie Rael
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