A Plan for Back-to-School Jitters

Published in Pediatrics, For the Health of It Author: Denise Lenarz,MD

Yellow buses will soon be on the way. The thought of starting another school year can be an uneasy, stressful and emotional time — and it’s not easy for the kids either.

Whether you have a preschooler, kindergartner or an older child going to a new school, separation anxiety is common for many children this time of year. Here are some tips to help your family make a smooth transition at drop-off time.

  • No matter how much your child protests, make it clear that you expect attendance at school. Try not to give in. Taking the child home or allowing him/her to stay home sends the message that with enough protesting, you’ll give in. It also signals to your child that you don’t trust his/her coping skills.
  • Plan quick and calm departures. Develop your own daily routine, involving a hug or high-five. Try to keep your emotions under control and establish that good-byes are no big deal. But if your child can sense your anxiety, that also can cause him/her to become emotional.
  • Don’t suddenly sneak away. This will only make it difficult for your child to establish trust with you. Set up a good routine. Be clear when he/she will see you next — and then make good on that promise.
  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings. What he/she is experiencing is perfectly normal. Don’t get upset with your child for feeling that way. Try to reassure your child that he/she is safe and will have a good time with friends.
  • Praise your child. When you return home together, let your child know he/she has done a good job overcoming one’s fears.
  • Anticipate regression. Growth is often a two-steps forward and one-step back process. Even after getting back in the school year rhythm — it’s common for a child to be fearful again after school breaks and sicknesses throughout the year.

If you feel like your child has more anxiety than just usual “back to school jitters,” talk to your child’s primary care clinic about your concerns.