Young Kids and Back-to-School Anxiety: How to Shrink it Down to Size

20.09.2016 11:07:00



For younger children starting school—whether it’s pre-school, kindergarten, or a transition into the first or second grade—having a grown-up lean down and say, “How exciting, you’re starting school soon,” can be similar to telling an adult they’re going to be scaling Mt. Everest next week!  And the fears children have about school can be very real: they may be apprehensive about separating from their parents, riding the school bus, or meeting a new teacher. 


The emotions your child experiences before the start of school can also lead to a general sense of anxiety—a feeling most children won’t be able to articulate. It’s important to remember that when placed in any new situation, all children (and parents, too) are going to need to take time to adjust.  Realize that your child will require a period of time to figure out their comfort zone and what’s required for them to fit in to their new environment. Fortunately, there are steps you can take as a parent to make the prospect less daunting–the key is to prepare your child both emotionally and physically so that they can have the best start possible this school year.


Weeks before  and after school starts, consider doing the following:


*Talk to your child about what they’re going to be doing in the upcoming school year. If your child is starting school for the first time, see if there’s a kindergarten orientation or a way to meet their teacher before school begins. Whether they’re starting a new elementary school or going back to the same one, go explore it with your child. Review where their class will be, visit the cafeteria, the library or the art room.


*Many schools post their school itineraries online so parents can review what their children will be learning, what activities they’ll engage in, and what fun things they may do during the year. Use this information to get your child excited about school.


*Talk about your own school days, the fun activities you loved, and what made your school experience special. Kids love to hear stories from their parents’ childhood because it helps normalize any difficult feelings they are experiencing. (As an added benefit, I’ve found that these talks with my own children have become a springboard for them to ask questions about their own hopes and fears concerning school.)


*If your child hasn’t seen school friends over the summer, it isn’t too late to invite them over to help your child get re-acquainted with them and excited for school. Visits to the park, pool, or movies with old friends—and new ones, too—can make your child feel more comfortable when they encounter their peers at school.


*Try doing some role plays with your child to help ease their fears. For example, if you discover that your child is afraid of riding the school bus, set up an area in the house and do a “pretend” ride to school. Take turns being the bus driver, your child, or his or her classmates. Come up with ideas together to make riding the bus a less scary prospect.



Going to school offers a wide range of emotions for parents as well as children. Whether it’s dread or excitement, fear or euphoria, all of these feelings can be bottled up inside our kids. Remember that any one symptom of distress does not cement a child’s fate or mean that their school year will be a failure. All kids, at some point in their academic career, will struggle, so try hard not to view their setbacks or anxiety as a permanent threat to their school career.  Every year that your child goes through school will be filled with highs and lows, good moments and devastating ones.  However, through encouragement, support and keeping your finger on the pulse of you child’s emotions, you are laying the groundwork for their future success in school.




Reference: Dr. Joan Simeo Munson, ‘Young Kids and Back-to-School Anxiety: How to Shrink it Down to Size’.

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