Whether it happens due to a cross-country move, a parental divorce, or because the old school wasn’t the best fit, your teen is likely feeling at least somewhat anxious and stressed out about an upcoming switch to a new school. In some cases, this anxiety will pass quickly and your teen will easily integrate with his or her new peers. Other times, however, stress over a new school can lead to social anxiety, depression, poor sleep, and other issues. Here are some ways to help ease teen anxiety when he or she is starting at a new school and what to do if you notice that his or her anxiety is not getting better over time.
Encourage Healthy Behaviors
When you have gone through stressful or anxiety-producing situations, you might have noticed that it’s sometimes difficult to stick to a good eating plan, getting eight hours of sleep each night, and exercising each day. The catch-22 is that the longer you put off attending to your health, the harder it is to combat the stress and anxiety that is causing the situation. This can lead to a vicious cycle.
Stop the cycle in its tracks when it comes to your teenager. To help ease teen anxiety, whenever he or she is feeling stressed or anxious, make sure that your teen is eating healthy foods, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising each day. Sticking to a routine in general helps defeat anxiety. In addition, self-care, like getting enough sleep and exercise, can make stress easier to deal with. Encourage your teen to go to bed at a decent hour and invite him or her along on a daily walk if it seems like they’re not exercising on their own. Try to serve healthy foods so your teen doesn’t resort to whatever is fast (and likely unhealthy).
Visit the School Ahead of Time
One of your teen’s worst nightmares might be getting lost in his or her new school. Trying to find where a class is before the bell rings can cause anxiety. It’s also hard for your teen to start a new school without knowing anyone. If you are switching schools mid-year, one way to help ease teen anxiety is to visit the school ahead of time. Here are a few ways that your teen might be able to do that.
Shadow Another Student – Call and ask if you can schedule a shadow day for your teen before he or she starts officially. The guidance counselor can arrange for your child to follow along with another teen in the same grade, attending all of the host teen’s classes for the day. This is a good way for your adolescent to begin meeting others and to get used to the layout of the school.
Attend New Student Orientation – Another way to visit the school ahead of time is to attend a new-student orientation. This is where both parents and new students are invited to the school and taken on a tour of the campus so that the new students can become more familiar with the school and learn their way around. This leaves them feeling more confident when attempting to find their classes on the first say of school.
Help Your Teen Stick to a Routine
A good way to help your teen get used to the “new normal” is to encourage him or her to establish and stick to some type of routine. It should be similar to the routine he or she currently has. For most teens, this entails getting up at a certain time, going to school, participating in extracurricular activities or going to an after-school job, coming home, eating dinner, doing homework, and getting to bed at a reasonable time.
Always knowing what comes next will not only help ensure that your teen is getting adequate sleep, but it will also help him or her feel less stressed in general. If you allow them to throw caution to the wind and slack off on their typical evening routine, this can cause some stress on its own.
Encourage Your Teen to Get Involved
Another way to help ease teen anxiety about switching schools is to get them involved in some type of activity. It’s often difficult to make friends during academic classes, so becoming active on a sports team, the drama club, or some other afterschool activity will give your teen a chance to meet people and make friends.
In addition, there’s some evidence that being involved in an afterschool sport can help keep kids from experimenting with drugs. One reason is that kids who play sports are often health-conscious and aware of the dangers of drugs. Another is that they might be drug-tested, so they’re careful not to jeopardize their place on the team. Finally, a practical reason might be that teens who play sports are simply too busy to find too much time to party. With many coaches wanting their teams to practice 10-15 hours per week outside of games, that doesn’t leave much time to get into trouble or to fall into the wrong crowd.
Watch for Signs of Anxiety Overload
While some anxiety over switching schools is normal and even healthy, too much anxiety can be detrimental to your teen’s health. A teen dealing with panic attacks or extreme anxiety is likely to feel exhausted and on edge much of the time. His or her schoolwork might suffer, and this can contribute to lowered self-esteem. In severe cases, too much anxiety can cause depression or even suicidal thoughts.
Some signs that your teen is under too much stress include the following:
- frequent nonspecific physical complaints (such as headaches or stomachaches)
- extreme moodiness
- changes in sleep habits
- changes in appetite
If your teen has a panic attack, it can include a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, flushing, sweating, and a sense of doom. If you see these symptoms in your teen, it’s best to seek professional counseling to help him or her learn to deal with the anxiety. Your teen’s primary care physician can refer him or her to a mental health professional who can help.
Switching schools can be stressful for any teenager and it’s normal for them to have some anxiety. Following the steps listed above will help ease teen anxiety but it’s important to keep your eye out for symptoms that might indicate a more serious problem. Don’t be afraid to seek counseling to help your teen learn healthy coping skills that will last a lifetime.