As summer break winds down to a close, it’s normal for your teenager to have some anxiety about returning to school. Will their new classes be too hard? Have their friends had amazing summers while your teen didn’t do anything special? What if they don’t make the soccer team or get a part in the school play? Can they really get back into the routine of waking up before dawn every day? The COVID-19 pandemic has added so much more anxiety and apprehension for kids headed back to in-person classes after learning from home for so long. While your teen might be getting back to school anxiety, the good news is that you can help them get their emotions and fears under control. Read on to learn how to help teens with back-to-school anxiety.
Identify What They Are Worried About
Does your teen feel an ache in the pit of their stomach or does their heart pick up speed when thinking about going to school? As them to think about what, specifically, is bothering them. A vague sense of dread can be disconcerting because their brain doesn’t know if they are worried about something rational or irrational. Mentally going through the possibilities and trying to determine whether they are worried about a particular class, having a certain teacher, seeing friends again, what they will wear, getting back into a routine of waking up early, or something else.
Once your teen has determined what’s bothering them, they might feel as though their anxiety has taken a nosedive! Sometimes realizing that they are worried about something relatively minor can help them think through the issue and will allow them to forget about it for now. If it’s something more important, you’ll at least be in the position to help figure out a solution.
Talk Through Their Specific Concerns
It is common for individuals, adults and teens alike, to focus on one or two events that might or might not happen and turn it into a source of anxiety. Having someone else to bounce these ideas off of can help them stay calm, evaluate the situation, and potentially offer some extra insight that the teen hadn’t thought of.
For example, if your adolescent is worried about whether they can handle the honors classes they signed up for, talk through the worst-case scenario. Ask your teen, “what would be the worst thing that could happen?” Chances are, he or she will say that they could fail the class. Next, ask them to think of a few things they could do if they found the class to be too hard. Some potential solutions might be to see the teacher for extra help, to join a study group with other students, or, if necessary, to drop the class and take an easier one instead. Having a plan can help your teen see that these types of concerns are able to be solved if they do come to fruition.
Encourage Late Summer Get-Togethers
Some teens get worried about seeing their friends again. If your teen has been seeing friends regularly all summer, then this is not an issue, but many teenagers go to work or travel with their families and aren’t able to keep up with their peers in person. While they have probably stayed in touch via social media, they could still have jitters about the face-to-face meetings that will happen on the first day of school.
You can help your teen ease these concerns by suggesting that he or she get the group together for a barbecue, a beach day, or even a meetup at the local movie theater. That will help them all realize how easy it is to fall back into the routine of communicating in person and can help them get past those awkward first few moments of reuniting after a couple months of not seeing one another.
Start Routines Early
If your teen has gotten into the habit of staying up late at night and sleeping in until noon, it is understandable that he or she might be getting back to school anxiety about getting back into the swing of the school schedule. Rather than wait until the night before the first day of school, encourage your teen to start getting to bed earlier and waking up earlier a couple weeks before school begins. This will help them feel more rested when the alarm starts going off when it’s still dark outside
Another routine your teen should get into is eating his or her lunch when it will be scheduled at school. Many young people sleep in during the summer, which means they might eat breakfast at 11:00 am, lunch at 3:00 pm, then dinner later on with the family. Others will tend to graze all day. Once they’re at school, however, they’ll probably need to eat breakfast early and lunch when it’s assigned. Getting back into this habit now will save your teen from hunger and digestive woes once his or her eating schedule changes.
Visit the New School
If your teen is starting at a new school, it’s understandable that he or she might have back to school anxiety. For incoming freshmen, there is often an orientation day late in the summer so new students can meet other teens and will learn where their classes are and how to get to the cafeteria. If you have moved over the summer and your teen will be going into a new school or if you’ve missed the freshman orientation, call the school and find out if you can stop in for a guided (or self-guided) tour. Just getting to know the layout of the building can help your teen feel more secure and have less back to school anxiety.
Look Forward to Non-Academic Activities
Some teenagers, particularly those who have struggled with school in the past, might be dreading their classes. Encourage your teen to sign up for electives that they will enjoy, if possible. Yes, they will still have to take English, Math, History, and Science, but if they can also take a few fun classes like photography, cooking, theater, physical education, or whatever appeals to your teen, they will have some time each day to focus on activities that they like.
Also, look at the clubs and sports available that your teen might like to join after school. Many teens struggle with their academic classes but really shine when it comes to starring in the school play or hitting home runs on the baseball field. While athletics and activities should not take a higher priority than academics, having these activities available will help your teen enjoy school more.
It is normal for your teenager to have some back to school anxiety, but by focusing on what they like about school and taking some time to prepare for the upcoming changes, you can help your teen minimize stress and even enjoy the process. If your teen is refusing to go to school or you are concerned that he or she has too much anxiety, however, contact your family physician or pediatrician for advice. Your teen might benefit from counseling to help them deal with their anxiety. Teaching your teen how to handle anxiety now will help them in the long run as they enter university, get a job, and begin life as an adult in the future.