Backpacks, pencils, calculators and…stress! Tips for navigating back-to-school anxiety

By: Saskia Perks

It’s back-to-school season, when children often feel anxious about the upcoming year. Managing anxiety is not an overnight process. It takes both the caregiver and child working together to discover the best coping strategies. However, there are ways to help alleviate some of these worries and help make the transition back to school smoother. Here are some tips from experts to help with the ‘first-day jitters’:

  1. Acknowledge the Anxiety: Psychologist Mary Alvord says uncertainty is the main underlying force driving anxiety. With new teachers and classmates, homework and tests, and a different schedule to adjust to, many children feel overwhelmed or frightened. By acknowledging that anxiety, caregivers can reassure kids that what they are feeling is a natural response and that there’s nothing wrong with feeling anxious. 
  2. Set a Routine: Setting either a morning or night routine can help children adjust by giving them stability and reducing some of the stress that arises from uncertainty. It can also help differentiate between summer and going back to school, and provide more one-on-one time.  Implementing something fun, such as a favorite breakfast cereal or putting on their favorite song can boost their confidence to take on the school day ahead. 
  3. Getting enough sleep: A restful night’s sleep can help decrease levels of stress in the brain, and is vital to tackle the school day ahead. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, keeping a sleep schedule, keeping the bedroom dark and cool, and exercising during the day can all help children sleep better at night. If a child struggles with racing thoughts at night, incorporating mindful exercises like journaling or breathing exercises can help them clear their minds for a restful night’s sleep. 
  4. Establish rules about Screens: According to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, children will spend an average of 3 and a half hours on social media a day. Murthy also notes that 1 in 3 adolescents report using screens until midnight. Increased screen time can lead to increased stress, which can negatively affect their performance at school. Monitoring screen time can help improve school performance and mental health. One rule that parents can consider is to keep phones away from the bedroom so that kids aren’t distracted when doing homework. While devices can be fun and helpful for staying connected with friends it’s important to find balance. One way to do this is to set up timers for when they are allowed to play on screens. When the timer is up, they must put away their devices. 
  5. Celebrate the small victories: While anxiety may not disappear quickly, it is essential to remember to celebrate the small steps along the way. Even the words “I’m proud of you” can help validate and encourage them to continue to face uncertainties. 


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