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Back to school anxiety: what can parents do?

For some kids, summer break ends when back to school anxiety sets in.

Back to school anxiety can affect any kid, no matter their age, but can be particularly common among young people who are starting at a new school, or are transitioning into a new level of education, like high school or post-secondary.

“Starting in early August, we get a lot of calls from kids who are worried about going back to school,” says Cheryl-Lynn Roberts, professional counsellor at Kids Help Phone. “They worry about peer pressure, clothing, being bullied, and getting lost.”

Cheryl-Lynn says that parents might not always notice that their kids are anxious about back to school. “It’s easy to assume that kids are in vacation mode and not realize that they feel like September is right around the corner and that the time is rushing by.”

Cheryl-Lynn adds that if parents are feeling pressured by the back to school rush, kids can pick up on this by watching and listening to what their parents are saying about the start of school. Some might also feel guilt or financial strain about the money their parents are spending on back to school supplies.

So what can parents do to help kids who may be experiencing anxiety about heading back to class?

“Sit down and have a talk,” Cheryl-Lynn says. “Ask kids how they feel about going back to school, but respect their timing. If they really don’t want to talk about it then, don’t pressure them, but make sure that you commit to having that conversation at some point, even if you do it through text messaging or in a letter – sometimes finding a comfortable form of communication can help a kid open up.”

Cheryl-Lynn also says parents might pick up on cues that their child is experiencing back to school anxiety when it’s time to go back to school shopping. “You have a list of supplies the school has sent home, and for parents, that might be exciting. But if your kid doesn’t want to go back to school shopping, or shows stress when you’re going through those items, it might be a sign that they’re experiencing anxiety.”

Over the summer, young people sometimes imagine back to school scenarios that become overwhelming. They might be afraid that they will not know anyone, that they will have a strict teacher or that they will not succeed.

“I hear from a lot of kids who are transitioning into high school and they’re afraid they’ll be pressured to do drugs,” Cheryl-Lynn says. “They start to believe that high schools are full of drugs, and even though that may not actually be the case, it becomes a strong fear for them nonetheless.”

Cheryl-Lynn says helping kids prepare for going back to school is about first understanding the basis for their fears. “From there, you can talk through the issue that’s making them anxious,” Cheryl-Lynn says. “Talking with your kids lets them know that you are open to being there, and that if something happens during the school year, they know they can turn to you.”

For more resources from Kids Help Phone, sign up for the In Focus monthly newsletter, featuring helpful tips from professional Kids Help Phone counsellors.

The RBC Children’s Mental Health Project, funded by the RBC Foundation, has donated more than $640,000 to Kids Help Phone since 1994 to help fund their programming initiatives. The RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues. Since 2008, the RBC Children’s Mental Health Project has donated over $12 million to more than 200 organizations across Canada.

Story courtesy of Kids Help Phone