Navigating Back-to-School Anxiety: Strategies for Parents and Caregivers

By Meredith Dangel

As the summer sun begins to set, back-to-school anxiety begins for students and parents alike. Whether your child is starting school for the first time or returning to a new grade, as a parent, your emotional well-being plays a vital role in supporting your child’s successful transition.

Why parents get anxious

  • Academic performance: Some parents worry about their child’s academic progress, fearing they won’t meet grade-level expectations or will face challenges in specific subjects. Parents of children with IEPs may feel an added layer of stress.

  • Social adjustments: Concerns about their child making friends or being bullied can cause parents to feel uneasy about their child’s social life at school.

  • Separation anxiety: For parents of young children, the separation from home and the fear of their child’s reaction to the new environment can trigger anxiety.

  • Safety and health: Parents might worry about their child’s safety and/or the school’s protocols to handle health-related issues.

What parents can do about anxiety

  • Focus on the positive: Highlight the exciting aspects of returning to school, such as reuniting with friends, participating in extracurricular activities, seeing teachers they love, or exploring new subjects.

  • Remember and celebrate: Chances are, your child has at least one happy memory from previous years. Take time to celebrate that in your heart and with your child! Remind yourself (and your child, if they’re nervous too) that good things can happen this year.

  • Re-establish routines: Ease into school schedules by gradually reintroducing routines a few weeks before school starts. This helps everyone adapt to the changes and ensures a smoother transition. For instance, if you’ve been sleeping in all summer, don’t wait until the first school morning to wake up earlier!

  • Communicate with your child: Encourage open and honest communication with your child. Show them with your words and actions that you care. You’ll maintain a strong relationship with your child when they know they can trust you.

  • Stay open with teachers and administration: You will feel more settled if you know about classroom expectations and safety protocols.

  • Manage expectations: Be realistic about your child’s capabilities and set achievable goals. Remember that each child has their unique pace of learning and growth.

  • Utilize mindfulness techniques: Incorporate mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, into your daily routine to reduce stress and anxiety.

  • Seek support: Connect with other parents or support groups who are experiencing similar emotions. Sharing experiences can provide valuable insights and emotional support. If you aren’t close to other parents, still connect with your friends and, if needed, your therapist.

Back-to-school anxiety for parents is a normal experience that can be managed with understanding and support. By recognizing the sources of anxiety and trying some of these strategies, we can navigate this challenging time with confidence and more ease. Remember that you are not alone in this season! I’m in the same boat, and I know many other parents are too.

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