Back to School Worries

You know how it goes: your child has a stomach or head ache in the mornings for no good reason. Maybe they have trouble falling asleep or begin waking in the night. School has started, and your child is worrying about the their class, classmates, certain “mean” teachers, or riding the bus. These worries are typical of the start of the school year.

Some Common Issues

Problem: Your child thinks last year will be the same as this year, especially if they had a teacher they did not like or or a classmate that soured their experience. This fear, if unchecked, can actually become reality, as an anxious child often is ignored or bullied by peers and insecure to raise their hand or take social risks, denying them rich experience that would help reduce anxieties.
Solution: Validate (i.e., listen without judgement, try to further understand or investigate, and give your child the sense you understand their struggles). Highlight the difference from last school year compared to the present one. Remind your child when they predicted something would turn out badly (e.g., a birthday party, starting a new activity) and it went much better than expected. Remind your child of their strengths (e.g. good a math, artistic) and instances where they stood out and were confident because of these abilities. Search for good experiences at school through their self reporting or checking in with their teacher, and celebrate them. Normalize worries—maybe as a child you had a similar experience. Share the experience, as it will make your child feel closer to you and thus less anxious.
Problem: your child has fears taking the school bus.
Solution: Validate (i.e., listen without judgement, try to further understand or investigate, and give your child the sense you understand their struggles). Get a specific understanding of their fear. Do they not have anybody to sit next to? Do they not like being the first one to be picked up and last to get dropped off? Have they had a negative experience with a peer who is riding the bus? If possible, try to come up with solutions to their worry together with your child. This gives them ownership and makes them feel valued. Have them identify possible peers they can sit next to. Have them talk about their fears if they were to sit alone. Help clear up the distortions in their fears. Talk to the bus driver about possible solutions to make the bus more inviting.
Problem: your child is afraid of a teacher and gets very uncomfortable, shy, and nervous in their class. It is detracting from their learning.

Solution: identify the specific behavior the teacher has done/does that makes your child uncomfortable. Start with the assumption that typically a teacher does not purposely go out of their way to make a child uncomfortable. Often it is your child misinterpreting a teacher’s body language, a look, a quip, sarcasm, their smell, or the teacher being impatient or overwhelmed in one instance. Help your child see the good qualities and past positive interactions with the teacher. Maybe your child is just not used to the style of the teacher. Normalize this and build hope that your child will get used to them. Maybe you had a boss that you did not like at first, but got used to. Share this story. Remind them of situations when a friend or adult rubbed them the wrong way, but they later discovered they liked them.

In general, most school worries work themselves out on their own. As parents, just understanding their worries and your child knowing you are on their side, will help iron out these beginning-of-the-school-year worries.