Back to School Anxiety: What if your child isn't happy about going back to school?

Back to School Anxiety: What if your child isn't happy about going back to school?
Photo by Heather Charles/Chicago Tribune

Summer is waning quickly.  It is back to school time for children and families.  Reconnecting with friends and starting anew are some of the aspects to look forward to with a new school year...plus excitement for new clothes, school supplies, class schedules,  and teachers.   BUT...What if your child isn't happy about going back to school?

Obviously parents know their child best and can  detect whether their child is giving an honest opinion about going back to school.

Children might reflexively say "no" to the question, "Are you looking forward to heading back to school?"  The "no" more likely  is an answer to the underlying question "do I want to give up my days of sleeping in, hanging out with friends/play dates,  in exchange for a rigid schedule that includes, studying, homework, and tests?"

Sometimes there is more to the no.  Anxiety can be an underlying reason for not wanting to return to school.

I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Zachary Sikora, a licensed clinical psychologist at Centegra Health System.  He recently hosted a lecture for parents whose children were overly worried or fearful about returning to school.

Here is some of his professional advice for parents.

Parents should  take a proactive approach.

Avoidance of the issue just increases anxiety.  The longer you are fearful of something, the stronger the anxiety gets over time. Take time to understand what the fear is about.

There are many possible fears- social aspects, perfectionism, the unknown, or general worries.

Once you assess the anxiety, confront it but in a gradual manner.

The most important part of overcoming anxieties relies on an open and understanding home environment.

Parents can use anecdotal stories to tell their child of a time they too were anxious or fearful. Explain that anxiety can cause physiological response in your body, such as a faster heartbeat or stomach ache.  This is normal-you are not alone.

Praise small accomplishments and don't punish setbacks, this will make the child feel ashamed.

Engage siblings for support and ensure that the entire family unit is supportive and understanding.  This will help the child be able to confront what is bothering him or her.

Be sure to check-in with School Zone tomorrow for specific tips involving the school and classroom that can reduce back-to-school anxiety.  I will be sharing more of Dr. Sikora's ideas and some additional resources.

IF YOU LIKED THIS POST, YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: What to do when kids say, I'm bored!

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    Excellent article! As a clinical social worker working with school-age children and teens, I agree that parents need to investigate their child's reticence about returning to school - there may be more to it - fear of bullies, looking right, fitting in or just plain nervous about the classes. Keep up the great posts!
    Michelle Krepps, LCSW, MSW, MBA
    Clinical Associates in Counseling
    www.Clinicalaic.com

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    My name is Lisa Stiegman and I have been a Chicago area resident all my life. Besides being the mother of three children, I have been a writer, editor, and teacher.

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