For many of us, back to school is a time of excitement: new clothes, brand new school supplies, new friendships and fun. But for some children, school can mean uncertainty and even resistance. When children say they don’t want to go to school, they often need help from parents and healthcare professionals in finding and addressing the root causes of their anxiety. Big transitions like heading to kindergarten, middle school or high school or changing schools can be especially tough. But the start of any new school year can bring fear and resistance. Here are some tips for helping ensure a successful transition into the new school year.
Be Positive: The American Academy of Pediatrics and other experts stress that parents’ attitudes can play a big role in children’s outlook on returning to school. It’s so important that parents remember to talk in positive terms about school in general and their children’s school in particular. Back to school is also a chance to share your own positive experiences and memories and read books that contain positive messages about school with your young children. Don’t hesitate to ask your school or public librarian for suggestions if you need a reading list. Finally, if you have concerns about your child’s school or teacher, don’t discuss them in front of your child.
Get Comfortable: Your child’s school has a big stake in helping children come to school excited and ready to learn. They are ready and willing to help set your child up for success. Parents can arrange a tour and meet with their child’s to help with a sense of familiarity. Especially when starting at a new school, make time to attend parent and student orientations to get the lay of the land, meet staff and make connections for yourself and your child. Reaching out to other children who attend the same school is another excellent way to create connection and a comfort zone. For younger children, the AAP recommends “rehearsing” school routines and common interactions to help your child feel more confident.
Establish Routines: Routines are important at any age and can help establish a sense of calm in the face of uncertainty.
- Create a quiet space for homework and make yourself available for any questions or concerns your child has about school work.
- A solid sleep schedule is as important for teens and tweens as it is for little ones.
- For older children, set clear rules on electronics use during the school year and make sure electronic devices are shut down well ahead of bedtime to give your child time to unwind. Remember, there’s nothing better than a good old fashioned book before bed at any age.
Keep Nutrition in Mind: Good nutrition is an important and often overlooked element of physical and emotional well-being from preschool through high school and beyond. The importance of a healthy, high-protein breakfast can’t be overstated: avoid high sugar cereals and consider hot options like oatmeal and eggs. Make sure your child is refueling with a healthy lunch, and avoid sending candy or sugary foods as snacks. Too much sugar can cause lack of focus and behavioral issues. Talk with your primary care provider if you need nutrition tips and meal or snack suggestions.
Stay on Top of Vision and Hearing Screenings: In some cases, anxiety about school has its roots in basic health issues. If your child is having trouble seeing the whiteboard or hearing instructions, this can lead to school-related stress. Children are sometimes hesitant to speak up about vision or hearing problems, so it’s important to stay up to date with screenings. If you think your child has a vision or hearing problem, talk to your primary care provider. Once the problem is fixed, families often see dramatic differences in their child’s outlook right away.
What If My Child Has Regular Stomach Aches?
In many cases, a stomach ache can result from separation anxiety or emotional distress. The medical community calls this functional abdominal pain, and symptoms include pain, nausea and even vomiting. If your child has frequent stomach pain, your primary care practice is the best place to start. First, it’s important to rule out illness. If anxiety is identified as the cause, your primary care doctor can often help you come up with an approach to addressing the problem. In more challenging cases, your primary care provider can refer you to a counselor specializing in pediatric care.
Your Primary Care Practice is Your Partner in Back to School Success
Your primary care provider plays so many roles in helping your child get ready for school.
It starts with regular check-ups and childhood immunizations but can go well beyond the basics. If your child is showing resistance or anxiety related to school, your primary care practice is the best place to start. At Comprehensive Primary Care, we love our youngest patients and want to make sure they get the most from school. Our caring and experienced providers can help you identify and address the root causes of school-related anxiety and find the right solutions for your child.