Expert advice on easing school anxiety

The start of school is here! It’s been many years since I was in school, but I was always anxious about starting a new school year. This was because of the changes that occurred such as having new teachers, new friends, new classes, and in some cases new schools.

Between the fear of the unknown and departure from routine, children may feel nervous about starting a new level of school, says Maria Deibler, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia in Cherry Hill, NJ.

Ease your child’s transition throughout each stage by following Dr. Deibler advice as follows:

Kindergarten— Mitigate any separation anxiety by acknowledging that the first step away is the hardest. The first thing for parents to do is normalize it and say, “It’s okay to be anxious, and it’s certainly understandable to feel that way about this”.

Parents can make the child’s fear of the unknown less scary by familiarizing them with it. Visit the school, and if possible introduce them to the classroom, where the bathroom is, and the teacher.

Elementary School— Dr. Deibler suggests reinforcing school curfews and bedtime a week earlier. Getting back to the daily schedule will give your child one less thing to worry about.

It’s advised to have a simulation of the first day of school beforehand. The wake up time, deciding what to wear, and clocking their time to the bus stop. Have a rehearsal day.

Preparation is key, if your child expresses fear of the new classmates, bullies, or a new environment. Get to the root cause of their fear, then act out their troubles in a safe and comfortable environment. Encourage your child to think ahead about what if they do have a problem.

Middle School— The seismic shift from elementary school is a big change. More difficult classes and biological changes in one’s body will cause anxiety.

Preteens outgrow their clothes, shoes, and voices. They have to answer to an earlier alarm clock, have extra homework, reacting to new trends, and gaining more friends to enforce the latest trends.

Many times, children and adults will see things in a distorted way when they are anxious. They will say things like,”I will never be able to make friends”, and “I will always be alone”. Chances are, they will probably meet people. In life we have people who like us and people who don’t like us. It’s being able to deal with it that makes us who we are.

It’s good to give concerned children advice, not assurance. We all have the tendency to say everything will be fine. Children are afraid it won’t be fine, so hearing that will not address their worry. It makes them feel like the worry isn’t valid, which makes them that much more anxious. While it’s impossible to know what will happen, children can find consolation by knowing that they can control their response to anything.

The key to dealing with anxiety is to learn to accept that it’s a possibility that something might not go as expected. Confidence in knowing that you’ll be able to manage it is very reassuring.

High School— It’s common to hear that students feel lost before school begins. They might say things like, “I’m going to this new school and it’s huge and I’m going to get lost and I’ll never make it to my classes”. It’s important to tell them that they are going to be lost like everyone else. Everyone will be wandering around and confused for a few days.

Extracurricular clubs and sports welcome freshman to feel connected to the school, fuel their passions, and find their own kind.

College— Parents can encourage their older students by letting them know how they overcame their home-sickness and inability to concentrate, and letting them know they have faith in the first-year student’s ability to do well in his or her new environment.

Do you have any thoughts or concerns about this subject? I’m interested to hear what you have to say.

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