When Kids Have Back-to-School Anxiety
Back-to-school season already? Not sure about
other aunties, but this auntie prefers other times of the year to back-to-school season. The days seem a tad bit shorter. The sun tucks itself
into bed earlier and earlier, and along with it, go my nieces and
nephews, who also start to turn in early.
Practice, practice, practice
summer liberates many of my nieces and nephews from their regularly
scheduled activities during the academic year. Practice for various
sports among them. When the crowds at the shore begin thin though, my
heart sinks. I know this means Aunt Steph won’t be seeing as much of
the kids in the months ahead as she did during the summer. Volleyball,
track, and fall ball practices start up this time of the year and begin
to limit their free time.
For aunties, limited free time and
early bedtimes are drawbacks to back to school season. But this time of
the year can be especially hard for some children who might suffer from
separation anxiety. This typically occurs with younger ones just
starting school or going off for the first time to full days.
Make friends with the school counselor
regression and changes in eating and sleeping habits can be normal
reactions in the beginning of the school year. But over time should
subside as a new “normal” routine becomes habit. If these types of
behaviors don’t subside in a few weeks, reach out to the school guidance
counselor right away. They are there to support you and your children
when “bumps in the road” surface.
Another time I’d encourage
you to reach out to the school counselor is after a child suffers the
loss of a loved one. Recruit the counselor and teachers as part of the
child’s support team. Returning to school following the loss of a loved
one can be particularly anxiety provoking and the more people in the
support system the easier the process will be.
“What if I feel like I am going to cry?”
is often a significant worry for children and one I hear over and over
in my practice. “What would you like to do if you feel like you’re
going to cry?” I ask. This question accomplishes two things. First, it teaches children how to problem solve for themselves, and secondly, it
restores a sense of control in a circumstance that creates a sense of
being totally out of control.
Having refined their ideas, I bring the
parent/guardian in to the session and encourage them to set up a meeting
with the teacher and counselor to implement the child’s request, which
usually involves setting up a signal of sorts the child gives to the
teacher when they feel the need to excuse themselves. It is not unusual
for a child to later tell me they hardly ever needed to leave the
classroom; just knowing they could, took the pressure off.
When to seek help
is as unique as our personalities. However, according to The American Academy
of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (1998), if the following
behaviors continue over an extended period of time, seek professional
• Depression so severe a child shows little interest in daily activities
• Inability to sleep, eat normally or be alone
• Regression in behavior
• Imitation of the deceased person
• Repeatedly wishing to join the deceased
• Loss of interest in friends or play
• Refusal to attend school or a persistent and marked drop in school achievemen
Back-to-school - whether simply that time of the year or back to school
following the loss of a loved one - can be a time riddled with anxiety.
Over time, anxious behaviors should subside, but if they don’t, reach out
to the school staff and or seek professional help. Remember, our nieces
and nephews don’t always have the language skills to ask for help and
rely on us to be their mouthpieces and to know when they need extra
So back to school it is. The cycle of life continues - early bedtimes and all.
Hugs and kisses ‘til next time!
Republished: August 24, 2016
Originally published in 2009