Managing Back to School Stress and Anxiety Part I

Posted by on Aug 19, 2014 in Blog | No Comments

Stress and anxiety, which we usually associate with dangerous or unpleasant situations, also typically escalate when things are changing – even if the changes are positive. Any major transition in the context of life – a new job, a move, a change in relationship or any big change in routine – generates adjustment stress for adults, children and families.


Children heading back to school after summer vacation may feel anxious about interactions with a new teacher and peers, new rules and expectations and/or separation from caregivers. Adjustment stress in children often shows up in regressive behavior. Anxious children may claim to feel sick to avoid going to school.

Parents can help kids with adjustment stress by taking care to:

  1. Create consistent routines. Consistency and structure can help kids feel BackToSchoolgrounded. Take care to establish regular morning, after school and bedtime routines.
  2. Talk to your child. Ask open ended questions about your child’s experience at school. Paraphrase what your child tells you so that your child knows you understood.
  3. Use role play to help your child deal with challenging situations at school. Resist the temptation to rescue your child from all anxiety-provoking situations because this tends to reinforce worry. Use role play techniques to teach your child skills to manage challenging interactions. Ask your child to take the role of the person he is having difficulty with while you take the role of your child. This is a good technique for teaching your child communication and boundary setting skills that help build self-esteem and reduce anxiety.
  4. Establish clear guidelines about missing school. Talk with your child before school starts about your expectations for school attendance and when not feeling well justifies staying home. Consider using behavioral incentives to encourage cooperative attendance.GettyImages_78456013
  5. Use positive reinforcement. Look for opportunities to validate and notice desired behavior.
  6. Seek help if needed. Child psychotherapy and pediatric acupuncture are complimentary ways of addressing anxiety symptoms in children.
  7. Use coping skills to contain your own anxiety. Anxiety in families is “contagious.” Transitions are stressful for parents, too. It’s hard for an anxious parent to contain a child’s anxiety. Parent-child psychotherapy can be helpful in reducing anxiety in your family system.


Read Part II – Managing Back to School Stress for Adults


To schedule an appointment with Maggie Bortz please call 503-730-9509


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