Tips on Reducing Back to School Anxiety

By Jennifer Walsh Rurak, Ed.D and Francisco Ayala, regional leaders at Fusion Academy schools

A summer characterized by sleeping late, deviating from structure and routine, and enjoying warm weather activities can provide a much needed reprieve from the hectic pace the school year can bring.

Unfortunately, an extended period away from school can also lead some students to experience anxiety and nervousness when the prospect of returning back to school is looming on the horizon.

It is completely typical and entirely expected that children and teens may experience some nervousness about returning to school. Making the transition from the summer to the school year can be taxing and disruptive for the whole family. Fortunately, by taking a few proactive steps, you can help to reduce uneasiness and promote a successful transition back to school for your child.

Consider the following ways of helping to reduce stress and anxiety related to returning to school:
• Get Excited –
A new school year provides a clean slate and a fresh new start. Promote back- to- school
excitement by making the preparations fun. Involve younger students in picking out a cool new lunch pail and enlist the help of teens in researching and selecting the graphing calculator they will use in math class this year. Making children part of the preparation process can help them to feel more involved and prepared, thus ultimately reducing stress and increasing excitement.
• Sleep for Success –
During the summer months we have the luxury of allowing our children to stay up a little later and sleep longer in the morning. In preparation for returning back to school, gradually begin implementing a return to more structured sleep and wake times a couple of weeks before the first day. For teens, begin having them set an alarm to reacclimatize them to an early start to their day. Additionally, the light emitted from electronic devices can impact the body’s ability to release the melatonin needed to fall asleep and rest deeply. Consider reducing the use of TVs, smartphones and computers as sleep time is approaching to help prepare their body and minds to fall and stay asleep. Helping to ensure your child is well rested will reduce stress and promote success at school.

• Establish a Routine –
Mornings can be frenzied and turn into a mad dash to get out of the house in order to get to school on time. For younger children, consider listing the steps and tasks involved in the morning routine such as getting dressed and brushing teeth. Post the morning routine in a prominent location for easy reference. Encourage your teen to make preparations in advance, such as packing lunch or deciding on clothes the night before. Doing so with help to make mornings less stressful and ultimately provide a chaos-free start to the day for both you and your child.

• Listen, Validate and Strategize –
If your child has concerns about the upcoming school year, be sure to listen, understand, and validate those concerns. For instance, if your teen is worried about navigating the hallways in the new high school, talk about how finding our way around new places can be tricky and work together to make a plan. Taking your teen on a tour of the new school to scope out classrooms or even looking at a map of the school can help to reduce stress and anxiety. If your child is worried that their new teacher might be mean, schedule a meeting with the teacher before the school year so that your child feels more at ease. Helping to problem solve with your child or teen will aid in making some of the unknowns better understood and less daunting.

• Social Experience –
It is not uncommon for children and teens to worry about whom they will socialize with in their new classes or school. Help to reduce stress by scheduling time before school starts for social activities that involve classmates that your child will be going to school with. Something as simple as going to a movie or out for ice cream with a soon-to- be classmate will help to establish friendships and create a familiar face for your child during the first days of school. Reach out through your own personal network, or through the school, to identify children who attend or will be attending your child’s school, even if they are not in the same grade. Helping them build a personal relationship, particularly with someone who already knows the school and has established social connections, can help them transition more effectively, reduce the stress of the unknown, and aid in creating lasting relationships.

• Goal Setting –
Help your child or teen to see the untapped potential of the upcoming school year. Ask them about the things she hopes to accomplish this school year. Encourage them to consider setting some goals that are academic and some that focus on sports, activities or friendships. By giving consideration to the exciting and amazing things that the school year will allow your child or teen to accomplish, you will help to generate enthusiasm regarding the possibilities the school year will allow, rather than stress or dread.

Transitioning from summer vacation to returning to school signifies a substantial change for children and parents alike. With some intentional planning and thoughtful preparation, you can reduce stress and anxiety and help to make returning back to school a fun and exciting undertaking for your child or teen.

Dr. Jennifer Walsh-Rurak and Francisco Ayala provide regional leadership support to the Fusion Academy schools on the East Coast. Fusion Academy is a private middle and high school that unlocks social, emotional, and academic growth in every student by utilizing an innovative, one-to- one instructional model. Fusion is a growing organization with over 40 private schools across the country which have revolutionized the way a school can serve students.