The new school year comes with a lot of change for children—a different classroom, teacher, peers, learning material and routine. These changes can cause stress and anxiety in some children and teens, especially if they struggle in school and dread going back.
How to respond to stress
Kids and teens of all ages can feel stress at times, and that’s normal. It’s essentially a signal to get ready for what’s coming. With typical back-to-school stress, a parent or caretaker can help adolescents start the school year with confidence—and gain important coping skills—with the following tips.
- Listen and validate your child or teen’s feelings.
- Talk through what they can expect of everything from the morning routine to the bus ride to the school day and dismissal.
- Visit the school and the classroom, especially if the child is younger or is new to the school.
- Check in with your child about how the year is going so far.
- Look ahead at what the rest of the year could be like.
Recognize chronic stress and anxiety
Stress can be good for kids. But on the other hand, chronic stress and anxiety that lasts for more than a few weeks aren’t healthy. In recent years, Dr. Doyle has noticed a growing number of adolescents, especially females, have anxiety.
“It’s normal to have stress; it’s not normal to have anxiety,” said Wellstar pediatrician Dr. Andrew Doyle. “Understandably you get nervous with new situations that make you uncomfortable, but you’re still able to do it and have fun. Significant anxiety starts to interfere with a child or teen’s ability to do what they need to do—homework, school, social situations. That’s when it’s helpful to get it checked out.”
In addition to having difficulty participating in and completing activities, signs of anxiety in children and adolescents can include difficulty sleeping, abdominal pain, headaches, significant changes in appetite or an explosive temper.
Effective treatments include lifestyle changes, medication and therapy. For example, lifestyle changes can include getting enough sleep, exercising, eating a healthy diet and planning downtime from social media and life responsibilities.
“Therapy and role-playing can help you recognize your stressors and think through how to handle them ahead of time so you can face those situations,” he said. “For example, on exam day, start with positive self-talk. You can say, ‘I’m feeling nervous. I have a headache and an upset stomach. I know that’s because I’m anxious. I’ve taken many tests before and I can do this, so I don’t need to worry about it.’ Breathing exercises before the test can help you stay calm.”
Start the year strong with a wellness screening
Another way to begin the school year right is to check in on your child’s emotional and physical health. Wellstar pediatricians will get to know your child and help them live their healthiest.
“I try to do whatever I can to help our patients and families so that when they leave my office, I've given them something to hold onto that is going to make life better for them,” Dr. Doyle said.
Find a pediatrician near you and book your child’s back to school exam so they can start the year strong.