Ashley Hudson LMFT
10 Tips on Taming Back to School Anxiety
Updated: May 4
Takeaway: In this post, I discuss reasons why teenagers feel anxious and nervous with going back to school, how to support teenagers as they head back to school, and tens ways in taming back to school anxiety for teens.
Summer is over and now it’s time to head back to school.
Heading back to school is exciting and overwhelming at the same time. It’s normal to have nerves starting anything new. For most teenagers, the first day of school could mean a brand new school, new teachers, new grade level, and new friends. Teenagers that are going into their junior year of high school tend to be particularly nervous. Junior year in high school is labeled as the most difficult and most serious. Teenagers feel pressure to get good grades because of college acceptance.
Other teenagers that have some back to school anxiety could be nervous due to social reasons. Maybe it’s a new school and your teenager has no group or friends to hang out with. Thinking about making new friends can be really daunting and anxiety provoking. Or maybe your teenager doesn’t want to run into or see a particular ex partner or ex friend.
Lastly, maybe your teenager did not finish the previous school year how they wanted too academically. Your teen could have fears of failing again. Thinking about going back to school could bring up thoughts of, “Will I live up to my parents or my own expectations?”
It’s not easy watching your teenager be anxious and nervous to start back up school. I have seen parents empathize with their teenager’s back to school anxiety because they themselves had school anxiety as a child.. On the flip side, I have observed parents who feel frustrated with their teenagers who have back to school anxiety and don’t know how to support them because they enjoyed school and were always excited to go back.
Supporting your teenager as they head back to school can be beneficial for your relationship with your teen. You can be a trusted guide and confidante for them as they navigate their anxiety and nervousness. As you read on, you will find ten ways you can help support your teen as they head back to school.
10 Taming Tips to Support Back to School Anxiety
1. Listen to their worries
No amount of planning will prevent your teenager from being nervous on their first day of school. It is normal for teenagers to experience a host of emotions including feeling nervous, anxious, overwhelmed, and unprepared. By listening and acknowledging their worries, you are normalizing your teenager’s experience. Utilize personal experience by letting them know what it felt like to start a new job and all the nerves you had to overcome. By letting your teen know it’s normal, your teenager will remind themselves the first couple of days of school will encompass nervous feelings. Also, parents, it's important to listen to your teenager’s worries even if the emotions are extreme. Teens want to be able to talk about their back to school anxiety without expecting you to "fix" them.
2. Remind them you are there to support them
Let them know you will be thinking of them throughout the day and would like to hear about it when they get home. Make it a priority to be available for connection when they get home from school so they can have an opportunity to discuss their worries and fears.
3. Take gradual steps
Encourage tolerance of fear and anxiety rather than avoidance. Your teenager might disclose to you that they are anxious about finding new friends and initiating conversation. Facing feared situations promotes resilience and reduces anxiety. Help your teenager take gradual steps in meeting new friends such as having them assess peers they might like in class, identify social locations at school, and talk with a trusted teacher or counselor on any positive social groups they can be a part of. Test out possible solutions and coping skills with your teenager and discuss whether they worked. If your teenager makes gradual steps in facing their fears it will help them build confidence in coping with the uncomfortableness.
4. Develop a routine
This is a DOOZY! Routine is really important with lowering back to school anxiety. Having a routine makes the schedule predictable and brings about a sense of control. Predictability and control are crucial ingredients with lowering anxiety. Before school starts, help your teenager come up with a bedtime routine that encourages unplugging from electronics, restful 8-9 hours of sleep, and preparation for the next day. In addition, brainstorm with your teen on a morning routine that endorses getting ready on time, eating a balanced meal, and getting into a calm or energized mindset before school.
5. School connectedness
Help your teenager get connected at school by looking into clubs, activities, committees, or sports that your teen would be interested in. Research has shown that teenagers who feel connected at school showed lower levels of emotional distress and depression. In addition, higher levels of school connectedness demonstrated teens were less likely to engage in risky behaviors, alcohol, drug use, violence, and gang involvement.
6. Create a first day game plan
The first day of school can be really nerve racking. A teenager might wonder where their classes are, what lunch break they have, or the bell schedule. If your teenager is willing, talk out different scenarios and role play with how the first day might go. By reviewing the campus map and bell schedule, your teenager will feel prepared and have a game plan for navigating possible incidents that cause anxiety.
7. It’s okay to ask for help
Let your teen know it’s okay to ask for help from teachers, counselors, administration, or classmates. Being a teen therapist and a parent coach, I help teenagers who struggle with being assertive and not knowing how to ask for help when they need too.I notice teenagers who build up stress and anxiety due to not feeling confident or comfortable with asking questions and for help. In addition, identify school personnel who can help with specific problems. For example, teachers can help with academics and stress around school work and school counselors can help with social emotional concerns, class placement, struggles with accessing material, and social conflict.
8. Use specific praise
Praise your teen for showing courage while facing their back to school anxiety. Letting them know how brave and courageous they are will help them stay steadfast in taming their back to school anxiety. When your teen does something you know is difficult, notice it and verbalize how proud you are of them for facing their fears.
9. Be a model
Your teenager will look towards you to be a positive role model. Keep your own anxiety of your teenager going back to school in check. Your teen can feel your energy and mood. It’s important to be confident in their ability to manage their back to school anxiety. Lead by example by showing them your coping skills when you are anxious from work or a situation. Let your teen know your experiences with anxiety and what coping skills have worked for you.
10. Know when to get involved
Parents, it’s important to know your limits of how involved you are with your teenager’s back to school anxiety. Sometimes, the more involved you are, the more likely you are sending the message your teenager isn’t adequate in managing their anxiety on their own. However, at times the back to school anxiety could be the tipping point of something larger at play. Use your parental intuition as a guide from allowing your teenager to face back to school anxiety on their own to talking with their school counselor and teachers about your teenager’s struggles. Evaluate the intensity, frequency, and the level of impairment your teenager’s anxiety is causing. Then, discuss options with your teenager and school staff on creating an emotional and academic support system. If needed, seek professional treatment in LA or in Orange County to help get your teen back on track.
“The willingness to show up changes us, it makes us a little braver each time." -Brené Brown
We have all felt nervous and anxious about starting something new. Take this as an opportunity to grow your relationship with your teen by supporting them as they go back to school. Your teenager will feel less alone and more connected with you if they know their parents are rooting them on. In addition, check out my free anxiety guide for parents who are looking for practical and simple tools you can implement today to reduce your teenager's anxiety.
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