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Parent Tip Sheet

Beating Back-to-School Anxiety

In so many ways, school is about learning to cope with transitions. Every year, it’s a new teacher, new subject matter, a new classroom and different classmates. Sometimes it’s a new building or even a new community. Year after year, children finish school, shift into summer mode for a few months, and then start the cycle again in the fall.

Fortunately, most children are very resilient and eagerly adjust to these transitions because they love novelty and change. However, some transitions pose more significant challenges than others, and some children experience great distress with any form of change.

The most challenging transitions tend to be starting kindergarten and first grade, going from elementary to middle school, and moving to a new community.

Children’s Issues
Starting school can trigger anxiety in children for many reasons. Some children fear the unknown and are uncomfortable with experiences that are completely unfamiliar. Other children have difficulty with transitions that mean greater separation from parents (such as a longer school day, a bus ride instead of walking or being picked up in the family car) or siblings (when a brother or sister no longer goes to the same school).

The best way to help youngsters adjust to these transitions is for parents to acknowledge that anxiety is normal and to offer adequate chances for children to visit the new setting until there is an acceptable degree of familiarity.

Parents’ Issues
The transition into school and between schools doesn’t affect just children. Some parents anticipate that their child may have adjustment problems and unwittingly create stress that the child picks up on. Some parents struggle to accept the natural process of their child’s growing and moving further away from the earlier intimacy. Other parents legitimately worry about a child who has difficulty with change.

Transitions go more smoothly for all when parents are continually excited about each new stage in their child’s life and believe in their ability to help their child adjust successfully. It is especially important to believe that, even if the child struggles at first, everything will eventually work out.

A common stumbling block is when parents view their child’s struggles as an inability to cope. Instead, parents need to recognize that transitions are a normal experience and that early patterns do not project ahead to adult struggles.

Overcoming Challenges Builds Confidence
Choose to view struggles with school-based transitions as an opportunity for a child to develop stronger coping skills. True self-esteem emerges from overcoming obstacles. A parent’s role is not to remove obstacles, but to assist the child in working through them. Don’t be disappointed if your child has some difficulties. Instead, view it as an opportunity for valuable growth.

Source: Parenting Q&A, http://www.parenting-qa.com.

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