Back-to-School Anxiety

By August 27, 2021Health Tips
The new school year is upon us.  Kids have already started returning to school and many of them may be experiencing some type of back-to-school anxiety.  Younger kids may be anxious about leaving their parents.  Teenagers may be more anxious about academic performance or social pressures.  This year, with the pandemic still in full swing, and many schools going back to in-person learning for the first time in over a year, many more students are likely to be anxious about the return to school.  Let’s talk about some ways that you can recognize their anxiety and how you can help them deal with it.
Back-to-School AnxietyAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) prior to the pandemic, about 7.1% of children aged 3-17 were diagnosed with some type of anxiety.  The prevalence of anxiety and related mental health issues has increased worldwide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic for both children and adults.
What challenges could your child face this school year?
  • Anxiety about health and the future – Children pick up on more than you might realize.  As COVID-19 and the Delta variant continue to spread, students may be worried about their own health or the health of a loved one or friend.
  • Rusty social skills – With less social interactions during the pandemic due to virtual learning, kids are out of practice when it comes to connecting with peers.
  • Grief – Some students have lost loved ones to COVID-19.  Others have family members who have recovered from COVID-19 but are dealing with residual effects.
  • Bullying and peer pressure – While this is not a new cause for anxiety, there may be new aspects to it.  For instance, wearing a mask may become a social divider among students.  In situations where not all students choose to wear a mask, students who will wear a mask to school may worry that they will be bullied because of the mask.
  • Fear of failure – Some kids may worry that they fell behind their peers over the past 18 months.
What should you look for to determine if your child may be anxious about getting back to school?
Not all children or teens will have the same visible signs of stress or anxiety.  Here are some common changes that you might notice in your child:
  • Excessive crying or irritability, or increase in defiant behaviors
  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown, such as bedwetting or toileting accidents
  • Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or nightmares
  • Lower energy level
  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequent headaches, stomach aches, or other unexplained physical symptoms
  • Avoiding or losing interest in activities they have enjoyed in the past
  • Refusing to go to school, skipping school in older children, or poor academic performance
  • In older children or teens, use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
How can you support your child if they are anxious about returning to school in person?
Children and teens do look to adults, especially their parents, and react based on how adults are coping.  When adults deal with COVID-19 in a calm and confident way, children see that and are comforted by it.  Here are some other things that you can do to help your child:
  • Talk with your child openly about COVID-19 and answer their questions about the pandemic in a way that they can understand, depending on their age.
  • Validate their feeling and listen to their concerns.  Rather than saying “There’s no reason to be worried.”, you might start a conversation by saying “I understand that you’re worried about [whatever it might be].  What is it that worries you most?.”
  • Focus on things that they can control.  We all get more stressed when things seem out of our control.  For instance, you might talk with them about washing their hands, or wearing a mask at school as a way of controlling their environment.  Or if they have social worries, you might focus on ways they can be kind to others or ways to make new friends or rekindle old friendships that have suffered from the time away from each other.
  • Teach them healthy ways to cope with stress.   Learning good coping strategies during childhood and adolescence will serve them well for the rest of their life.
  • Try to keep up regular routines, especially getting back to a good sleep routine that allows them the recommended amount of sleep for their age.  If you are still doing remote learning (or return to it), create a schedule for learning with plenty of breaks for exercise or fun activities.
  • Limit exposure to the news or social media.  If children do hear news coverage about the pandemic, talk with them to be sure they were not frightened by it or did not misinterpret it.
  • Make the time to enjoy meaningful activities with your children regularly, such as playing board games, exercising, reading together, or spending time together outdoors in nature.
  • Be a role model for them.  Take care of your own mental health in ways that are visible to your child, such as exercising, eating healthy foods, getting plenty of sleep, taking breaks from work, and keeping in contact with your friends and family.
Here are some helpful resources that you might find useful:
If you have any questions about back-to-school anxiety, please log into your account and send
us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
  • Sign in to your account

    Forgot screen name or password?


    First time user?
    Register your account now.

    Register Now

    Need Assistance?
    Contact us at 1-866-525-3362