6 Strategies for Managing Back To School Anxiety

Date Posted

August 19, 2022


Marja Brandon

Desk with School Items in the Foreground and Male Student in the Background

You know it’s August when the “Back-to-School” sale commercials flood your screens. Some kids cannot wait: time back with friends, teams, activities, excitement, and much-needed structure. Others, however, are more anxious: a new place, a new grade, COVID protocols, concerns about school safety.

Whether your child has started school or is getting ready to return, they need your help. Here are a few strategies you can use to ease the transition and prepare students for a mentally-well academic year.

  1. Manage Your Feelings Before You Discuss Theirs and Build Resilience

Parents communicate their own anxiety more than they realize. Your anxiety can trigger your child’s anxious feelings. The first step is to have an open conversation about concerns without intensifying your student’s fears. Help them feel confident that they can overcome the challenges they face, but don’t problem-solve for them. Mirror back what you are hearing, and ask questions. Help brainstorm options and see possible consequences for each option. Once they choose a course and try it, help them evaluate and reflect on their choice and the outcome. This builds resilient, self-sufficient problem-solvers.

  1. Return to Routine

Prior to school starting, slowly re-establish bedtimes, including any rules regarding tech access that you may have relaxed over the summer. Discuss how screen time, messaging apps, and social media will be managed. Encourage your child to think about their school clothes, wake-up times, eating nutritious foods, exercise, and otherwise preparing for their upcoming new weekly schedules. If possible, print out and post whatever school schedules you have. Preparation will ease the transition.

  1. Set Expectations Around COVID Protocols

Talk to your child about how COVID is here to stay. Explain that new vaccinations, boosters, treatments, and tests make us better prepared to recognize and deal with it. Remind them that hand-washing, masking, and keeping a healthy lifestyle (eating, sleeping, exercising) are key to keeping their immune system strong. Talk about whatever school protocols are in place to start the year, and your family’s approach.

  1. Speak Honestly About Safety

Given recent school shooting events, your child may be understandably nervous about returning to the classroom. Review the steps their school is taking to be as safe as possible. Discuss who they can go to should they have specific concerns about a person or situation.

  1. Establish Regular Check-Ins

Set aside some regular time together for the first few weeks. Don’t just ask how their day was (“fine” is a guaranteed answer). Ask more open-ended but specific questions. Better still, have everyone (including the adults) play the game “High, Low, Buffalo” (you give your day’s high, low, and one interesting thing that happened). Instead of meeting them with questions as soon as they arrive home, spend time reconnecting. Smile, laugh, give them a snack, a high-five, a hug if they are open to it. Let them settle in comfortably first. If you can’t be there in person, send them notes in lunches, leave them notes at bed, use breakfast time, or find time when you can connect.

  1. Help Them Decompress Outside of School

While we don’t want over-scheduled kids, having something outside of school, with a separate group of peers, can be healthy. A team, an art program, a hobby, a volunteer program, an internship can make kids feel like school isn’t their whole world. Remind your child that the world is bigger than just school. Students who do service work build self-esteem and move beyond self-involvement.

Remember, back-to-school anxiety is common and manageable. If your child’s anxiety does not lessen, however, consider reaching out to a school counselor or mental health provider for additional support.

Nationally-recognized visionary in the areas of educational system improvement and innovation, educational consultant Marja Brandon has been a teacher, head of school, and founder of Seattle Girls School. This article was produced in collaboration with TeensParentsTeachers.org.