Back to School Anxiety and 5 Tips to try at home

IMPORTANT: This blog is not a substitute for therapy, but provides evidenced-based education for the purposes of self-help, or to compliment the therapeutic process. ​ ​This blog is non-monetized.

By: Christina Crowe, RP, updated August 2022

It’s a week before school starts in Ontario and back to school prep is in full swing!

Teachers are setting up classrooms, kids are finding out who their teachers and classmates are, clothes are being picked out, snacks are being stocked up and backpacks are getting packed. While for many it’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, it can strike paralyzing fear into the hearts of many of our students.

​Whether it’s a school specific anxiety, excessive worry about what other kids think, worry about fitting in or about teachers, the sore tummies and headaches might start ramping up for some of our kids.

​What is a parent to do?

5 TIPS TO CONSIDER TO SUPPORT YOUR KIDS:

  1. Get back onto the school year schedule: regular bedtimes, regular wake times and regular mealtimes.​​
  2. Power down the devices at least an hour before bedtime. Our phones and tablets emit this super bright “blue light” that enables us to see the screen well during the day, but at night it messes with our levels of the hormone melatonin in our brains. It tells our brain its still daytime, and can lead to insomnia and night awakening in all of us. Charge those suckers in the kitchen, not in kid’s bedrooms. Kids need to sleep.
  3. Creating bedtime routines that tell our body, ‘the day is slowing down, let’s prepare to sleep’, is an important step for the whole family. Depending on the age of your kids, it might be everything from the old ‘bath, book, bed’ routine, to spending special cuddle time with a parent, or a pet, getting ready for school the next day, or practicing some kid-friendly mindfulness meditation techniques.
  4. Nutrition: Sit down the kids and allow them to be collaborators in their own meal plans. Eating more healthfully is a lifelong pursuit, but let each kid tell you what their favourite nutritious snacks are. Basic principles like lots of variety, lots of colours and lots of veggies and fruit are a great start. 
  5. Supports for your child: If you have a child you have to work harder to support emotionally than your other kids, a ‘strong willed’ child, or a child who has a diagnosed disorder or learning disability, take the time to set your kid up for success. This might mean sending a letter to your child’s teacher (“All about Sally” with her strengths, challenges and tips from your perspective), going in to meet the teacher before school starts (call the principal), visiting school before the hustle and bustle begins, and perhaps most importantly, teaching your child how to calm their body down (mindfulness breathing) when they get worried. 

Tip: Ask your Dig A Little Deeper therapist for a ‘Dear Teacher‘ template – we have lots! 

Image of a young boy sitting in the corner of a room with his face in his hands.

Symptoms of anxiety in school-aged children can be varied, but might look like this:

  • Persistent, irrational fear or worry,
  • It interferes with daily life,
  • Irritability, jitteriness, sleeplessness, weepiness, headaches, stomach aches, chest pain, dizziness,
  • Can occur as a result of other diagnoses (Ex: ADHD; depression),
  • School refusal or avoidance.

If you think your child is suffering from undiagnosed anxiety, there is a lot of support available, from self-help sources like Anxiety Canada (see below), as well as locally from regional children’s services, private therapists or school-based supports.

Many practical things can also be done at home to support kids.

Parents and caregivers can:

  • Pay attention to your child’s feelings (don’t minimize their feelings and suffering). Really stop and listen.
  • Parents are the models of what calm looks like when children become anxious. Being mindful of our own anxiety (and getting help when we need it), can help bring calm to our kids. 
  • Recognize and praise small accomplishments toward improved coping.
  • Be flexible, yet try to maintain a normal routine. Routine brings reassurance and safety for kids. 
  • Modify expectations during stressful periods – this isn’t a new time to throw in something new.
  • Plan for for the time it takes to make transitions (Ex. allow/plan for more time if getting to school is difficult).
  • Model for your kids how to do mindful breathing, to calm your body.

 My favourite resources for families are these:

  1. A free guide to creating My Anxiety Plan (MAP) for you and your child. 
  2. Info on anxiety for Tweens & teens, click HERE

GOOD LUCK IN SEPTEMBER!

Remember, we’re all human and we need each other for support, especially our young people.  


LOOKING FOR 1:1 SUPPORT?

Image of a hockey puck on the ice and the words Meet the Team for Dig a Little Deeper Therapy's available therapists in Ontario
  • Check out the ‘Our Team’ page at any time to see which therapists, counsellors and parent coaches on our team are taking new clients. 

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Picture of ​Christina Crowe, H.BSc. MACP, RP, (S-Cert) OAMHP (she, her)

​Christina Crowe, H.BSc. MACP, RP, (S-Cert) OAMHP (she, her)

Registered Psychotherapist, Validated Clinical Supervisor, ADHD Therapist & Coach Podcast Host The Christina Crowe Podcast Christina is a Canadian Registered Psychotherapist, a member of CADDRA's Advocacy Committee and relentless mental health advocate. Christina believes great mental health information should be available to everyone, loves creating content that makes invisible things VISIBLE and finding new ways to bring healing experiences to as many people as possible.

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