As summer comes to an end, children and teens across the country are gearing up to return to the classroom. For some students, this can be an exciting time to reunite with friends, meet new teachers, and set goals for the academic year ahead. For others, the return of the school year can reignite feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression that had seemed to dissipate over the summer break.
As the youth mental health crisis worsens, many students are experiencing anxiety as they head back to school. A recent Pew Research Study revealed that 40% of U.S. parents with children younger than 18 say they are extremely worried their children will struggle with anxiety or depression. The shift from a carefree summer filled with leisure activities to the social and academic responsibilities and expectations of school can be overwhelming for students of all ages. For many children, these worries can be so pervasive that they may avoid going to school altogether.
Anxiety and avoidant behaviors go hand in hand: it is simply human nature to avoid tasks that scare us. But the longer kids are away from the classroom, the harder it can be for them to integrate back into a school setting. School avoidance can result in poor grades, peer relationship challenges, and strained family dynamics.
By understanding and addressing potential issues kids may face as they return to classroom learning, parents, teachers, and caregivers can play a vital role in supporting their children’s mental wellness.
Establish a routine
Many students struggle to manage their time effectively while balancing schoolwork with extracurricular activities, which can increase the pressure to perform well academically. Establishing routines and gradually reintroducing school-related activities before the first day can help them ease into the back-to-school transition. This may include developing time management skills by creating study schedules, setting realistic goals, and prioritizing important tasks.
Make healthy connections
For students who have social anxiety, the thought of reconnecting with peers or adjusting to new settings at the beginning of the school year can be especially daunting. Social interactions play a crucial role in a child's overall wellbeing, and feeling isolated or excluded can have a significant negative impact on their mental health. To help children prepare to reenter social situations, parents can organize playdates with friends—old or new—before school starts.
Put it into practice
Younger children, especially those starting school for the first time, may experience separation anxiety from parents or guardians. Being in an unfamiliar environment with new faces can trigger feelings of distress and insecurity. To help, parents can practice short separations from their child before the first day of school, allowing them to gradually adjust to being apart.
Returning to school after summer break can be both exciting and challenging for children's mental health. Helping alleviate your child’s school-related anxiety begins with being able to recognize the signs of anxiety itself. If your child or student is experiencing changes in their sleep patterns, irritability, or has lost interest in activities that once brought them joy, it may be time to seek support. To learn more about Sheppard Pratt’s child and adolescent behavioral health services, click here.