Children Facing Back to School Anxieties: Psychologist Offers Parents Suggestions on How to Ease their Fears and Make a Smooth Transition

Dr. Lata McGinn

WPCNR SCHOOL DAYS. By Dr. Lata McGinn, Cognitive Behavioral Associates, White Plains, N.Y. Professor Yeshiva University. August 7, 2019:

Editor’s Note: The dog days of August are here. School begins in 4 weeks. Dr. Lata McGinn, international expert in behavioral issues and frequent guest to discuss children’s issues on White Plains Television “People to Be Heard” has put together approaches for parents and students to ease both the fears of going back to school and think positively about the new school year to smooth the transition.

Returning to school in the fall can bring excitement as well as stress and anxiety for many children. There are several things parents can do to help their children ease back into the new school year and deal with the anxiety that often accompanies that first day and even those first few weeks.

1)      Help your child know that feeling anxious about going back to school is normal and don’t minimize how they feel.  Don’t say, “don’t worry, it will be fine.” Instead say, “it is normal to feel some anxiety about going back to school. Everyone feels it to some extent. Anxiety is a protective emotion and it will help you prepare and get ready for school, and it will pass when you adjust to being back at school.”

2)      Help them understand what the purpose of anxiety is and to listen to it rather than push the anxiety away. Say “anxiety is like an unpleasant but helpful alarm, so the alarm will keep on ringing and get louder until you figure out what it is alarming you to do and then you do it.”

3)      Help them figure out what is making them concerned or anxious, so they can talk to themselves in a way that will help them to cope with it. Ask them to pay attention to what is going through their minds when they get anxious and come up with helpful things to say to themselves. If the anxiety is saying, “I am starting high school and I will not do well and won’t get into a good college,” help them to say something like, “I am understandably anxious about starting high school and am worried that I won’t do well but that doesn’t mean I actually won’t do well. I just need to make sure I prepare in advance, organize my work, make sure I have enough time to study, take away all distractions when I study, and get support when I need it.” 

4)      Help them gradually approach all the things that are making them anxious rather than avoiding what is making them anxious about school. If seeing their friends is making them anxious, and they are avoiding seeing them or thinking about meeting them at school, help them to create a fear ladder and slowly climb it. Say, “how about you call Matt to see if he can meet up before school, and then after that, you could meet again and include Jack and Alex too?”

5)      Do something academic to prepare because the brain drain is real over the summer. If they are weak on a subject, get a tutor for a few weeks or use online forums like the Khan Academy or Crash course (a YouTube channel led by “Fault in our Stars” author John Green and his brother Hank Green) to help them prepare. It will help them get a refresher and build their confidence. 

6)      Help them to focus on positive things about going back to school as well. Ask them if they are looking forward to any aspect of going back to school. If seeing their friends is something they feel good about, say things like, “it will be nice to catch up with Jane. You have so much to tell her.” Of course, if seeing their classmates is anxiety provoking, pick another topic.A

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