How to manage back to school stress

August 18, 2013

For many children, adolescents, and young adults, the end of the summer is also the beginning of a new school year. Whether in their first year of kindergarten or senior year in college, returning students face both old and new challenges at the start of the fall semester. Going back to school can be particularly unnerving and overwhelming for children who are facing major transitions such as starting elementary school or entering middle school.

So, how can adults help children manage stress? First, we must recognize some of the symptoms of stress in children. Stress can be physical (headache, stomach ache, vomiting, wetting); emotional (fear, irritability, sadness); behavioral (crying, nervous tics, losing temper); or can be seen in interactions with others (withdrawing, teasing or bullying or extreme shyness). As a parent, there are proactive steps you can take to support your child as he or she heads back to school.

Express interest and enthusiasm about the start of the school year. If you’re confident and excited, your child will be too.

Make sure to attend your school’s open house. Go with your child and help locate his or her classroom, lunchroom, playground, library, science lab, gymnasium, and restrooms. This will help to keep your child from feeling lost on the first day.

Listen to your child and discuss aspects of the new school year that he or she is worried about. Remember to let your child know that it’s normal to feel nervous about the start of school. For parents of younger children, suggest that your child take a family photo or special object to school to make his or her surroundings more comfortable.

Try to meet a classmate ahead of time or introduce your child to someone in the area who will be riding the bus with him or her.

Help your child plan ahead and stay ahead from the start. If age appropriate, get your child a wall calendar or personal planner. Mark the dates for midterms, finals, and other tests, as well as projects, rehearsals, and practices. If your child starts to feel behind or is struggling in a subject, encourage him/her to talk to the teacher. Addressing the problem right away can save time and reduce stress when the teacher has an opportunity to understand the child’s struggles.

Spend time each day talking to your child about what happened in school. Give your child positive feedback about his or her new experiences.

Praise and encourage your child to become involved with school activities and try new things.

Attend school functions, and stay involved in your child’s education. Children whose parents are more involved with their education have higher achievement, are better adjusted, and are less likely to drop out of school.

For more information, contact Kim Reid, Extension Agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at 910-592-7161.