Overcoming Anxiety About the Start of a New School Year

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
Healthy Minds
August 13, 2019

The start of a new school year is often a very exciting time for many students. It also tends to be a time of increased worry and stress about the year that lies ahead. Even children who typically adjust well to change and new situations often feel a spike in their anxiety. Fortunately for most, this anxiety will fade fairly quickly over the first couple of weeks. However, for others, it may persist and have a larger impact on a student's social and academic performance. Try some of the ideas below to help ease anxiety with the transition back to school.

The National Association of School Psychologists offers these suggestions for overcoming anxiety about the start of the school year:

  • Let your children know you care. If your children are anxious about school, send personal notes in their lunch box or book bag. Children absorb their parent’s anxiety, so model optimism and confidence for your children. Let your children know that it is natural to be a little nervous anytime you start something new, but that they will be fine once they become familiar with their classmates, teachers, and school routines.
  • If the first few days are a little challenging, try not to over react. Young children in particular may experience separation anxiety or shyness initially, but teachers are trained to help them adjust. If you drop them off, try not to linger. Reassure your children that you love them, will think of them during the day, and will be back. Remain calm and positive.
  • Acknowledge anxiety over a bad experience the previous year. Children who had a difficult time academically or socially, or who may have faced teasing or bullying, may be more fearful or reluctant to return to school. Consider sharing your children’s concern with the school and confirm that the problem has been addressed. Reassure your children that you and the school are working together to prevent further issues.
  • Reinforce your children’s ability to cope. Talk with your children about ways to manage a difficult situation on their own. Work through examples of challenges faced during prior school years. Encourage your children to tell you, a teacher, or another trusted adult at school if the problem persists. Maintain open lines of communication with the school.
  • Arrange play dates. Try to arrange time for your children to get together with some of their classmates before school starts and during the first weeks of school to help them re-establish positive social relationships with peers. 
  • Consider volunteering in the classroom or at school in general. Doing so helps your children understand that school and family life are linked and that you care about the learning experience. Being in the school or classroom is also a good way to develop a relationship with your children’s teachers and classmates, and to get firsthand exposure to the school environment and classroom routines. Teachers and other school staff often welcome occasional parent help, even if you cannot volunteer regularly.
  • If your children experience anxiety at the start of the school year that is not going away, do not hesitate to reach out for help. Besides the classroom teacher, many other support staff at school are available to assist including the school counselor, school psychologist, or school social worker.

Need more ideas for helping your child overcome back-to-school anxiety? Check out last year's blog on Ease Your Child's Back-to-School Anxiety

Healthy Minds is for parents, educators, and community-based providers who are interested in supporting student mental health and wellness. It represents a collaboration between FCPS’ Office of Intervention and Prevention Services and the Fairfax County Government. SUBSCRIBE to Healthy Minds and receive a monthly digest of our most recent articles.