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Pencils, Paper, and Coping Skills: The Anxious Child’s Back-to-school Supply List

August 09, 2019

The pools begin to look emptier as schools start to fill with kids embarking on another academic year. With this transition, you may start to feel tensions rising in your household from the back-to-school jitters you or your child may be experiencing.

“We actually see, particularly with adolescents, our caseload increases during the school year,” says Jaclyn Scanlan, LISW-S, therapist at Kettering Health Network. “It’s a very common scenario for someone to be anxious at the start of school.

Whether it’s the social aspect of school or fear of being called on by teachers, anxiety can manifest in all kinds of ways for students preparing to go back to class. While this reaction is normal, there are many ways you can help soothe your child as that first day approaches.

Pay proper attention

The most important thing you can do for your anxious child is to listen to them and be observant of their behavior.

“We need to remember what anxiety can look like because it’s not always nervous and sweaty,” Jaclyn says. “It can look like tantrums in younger kids who are scared and don’t always have ways to put their emotions into words.”

Talking with your child and helping them express their emotions is a great first step to helping them cope with their anxiety. Organization is important for anyone feeling overwhelmed and anxious, so helping your child feel in control in that way can help a lot.

To start, establish your school routine a week or so before school actually starts to help your child begin to adjust to their new schedule. Do dry runs of walking to the bus stop and wake them up early enough to practice getting out the door on time. Laying out clothes ahead of time and packing backpacks the night before can also be helpful.

“Routines are huge,” Jaclyn says. “Whether its stopping screen time by nine or making sure your kids have time to unwind, you need to be consistent.”

Big picture solutions

If routines and preparedness aren’t quite getting to the root of the problem, step back, and look at the bigger picture. Are your kids involved in too much? Or do they not have enough to do, allowing them to get lost in their thoughts? Reevaluating all their activities, not just what’s going on at school, can be another solution.

Speaking to your child’s teachers or a school counselor may also help, as small changes during the school day can help ease fears.

“If they feel trapped, sitting in a certain part of the classroom or near the door may help,” Jaclyn says. “Deep breathing at school is another solution that’s quiet and not obvious to other kids. It’s really about listening to your kid’s worries and seeing what can realistically be done.”

Pain points

Some of your child’s fear triggers may actually manifest in stomachaches, headaches, heart pounding, or sweating, which can make them believe they’re sick if they don’t understand what’s happening to their bodies.

If this happens, try to see if the physical symptoms are connected to any potential fears, such as a test that day or something happening at school the day prior.

“Follow up with your pediatrician if you’re concerned about recurring stomachaches,” Jaclyn says. “A lot of times, they’ll be able to rule out health issues. From there, you can follow up with a therapist if basic coping skills aren’t working.”

The bottom line

According to Jaclyn, the most important step is to make your child feel empowered by hearing them out but also helping them think of a way they can work through it.

“If you know it’s within their abilities, help them find ways to be successful,” Jaclyn says. “Don’t abandon everything because it triggers anxiety.”

When you need extra help

Visit our mental health page for additional resources.