Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Handling Back to School Anxiety

With only one week until school starts again (at least here in Canada), I thought it was timely to post this article on handling back to school anxiety.  As we all know, being in the school system is tough and if last year didn't end on the right note, your child could be stressing about how this school year is going to go. 

As much as we'd like to put our children in a bubble we can't and it's our job to help them learn the tools they need to navigate these waters.  Here are some suggestions in helping make the transition back to school easier. 



HANDLING YOUR CHILD’S BACK TO SCHOOL ANXIETY
How to ensure a smooth transition back to class

Toronto, ON, August 27, 2013 – After a long summer break, it’s not uncommon for children of all ages to feel anxiety about going back to school.  Whether it’s general back to school jitters or the prospect of grappling with previous stressors like bullying or academic challenges, there are many reasons why a child might be apprehensive about the return to school. 


Even positive transitions can be difficult for some children, according to Christie Hayos, social worker at The Hincks-Dellcrest Centre, a children’s mental health treatment, research, and teaching centre in Toronto.  Most children will experience some level of general anxiety – along with excitement – at the prospect of going back to school.  

If you think your child may be experiencing more significant anxiety about what he anticipates will be a difficult return to school, try the suggestions below to make the transition a smoother one.

Understand the basis of your child’s anxiety

Are your child’s worries general and not based on past experience?  If she feels vaguely that “no one’s going to like me” or “I’m not smart”, she may be struggling with the transition back to school overall, rather than experiencing anxiety about something specific.  Validate the child’s feelings by showing that you hear and understand them, then help her to remember the actual positive experiences she has had in the past.  “Remember how much fun you had at school last year when you and your friends played on the playground ?”  Focus on times when your child experienced success.

Does your child genuinely have something to be anxious about? If he is remembering unresolved issues from the previous school year, such as being the victim of a bully or experiencing academic challenges, then a parent needs to support the child’s reintegration back to school with a plan of action (see below).

Plan of action for a smooth transition

If your child is going back to school with specific concerns about bullying or academic performance, have a clear plan and explain to your child how things can be different this year.  For example, have arrangements been made for a different classroom, new teacher, or more in-school support?  Talk to your child in a concrete way about how people will be helping her to ensure this is a successful school year, and what she should do if she still has concerns along the way. Reassure your child that together you can handle any situation that comes up.

If there is not yet a plan of action, thoroughly discuss your child’s worries with her, brainstorming all the ways that things could have been done differently last year.  Then speak to her teacher or principal to come up with a plan.  Having a strategy in place will ease your child’s anxiety by giving her a level of comfort that things can get better.

When to get help

Give your child the first few weeks of school to settle in.  If worries aren’t gradually decreasing, or they are interfering with other areas of life – your child has trouble sleeping, has changes in her eating habits, or has a sudden “clinginess” to you as a parent – you may want to seek help.  Start by talking to your child’s teacher about your concerns.  You may also want to consult your family doctor or a mental health professional.

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About The Hincks-Dellcrest Centre

The Hincks-Dellcrest Centre is a children’s mental health treatment, research, and teaching centre located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  Each year, we help more than more than 8,000 children and families through a combination of prevention, treatment, research, and education activities.  A community affiliate of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine (Department of Psychiatry) and Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, Hincks-Dellcrest is accredited by the Council on Accreditation for Children and Family Services.  Our vision is to bring hope, optimism, and possibilities to the children and families we serve.

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