Battle the Back to School Blues

Clever school friends in casualwear

Your family is watching TV one evening when it happens, the dreaded back to school commercials begin!

Over the sound of unhappy groans, the thought hits you that the first day of school will be here before you know it! Many children feel excited as the new school year grows closer, but this excitement does not come without its fair share of stress. The question for parents usually lies in how concerned should they be about their child’s back to school woes. Some parents question whether or not their child’s feelings about school are average, and what they should do to help them adjust to a new school year.

There are plenty of developmentally appropriate anxious thoughts that school age children can have. Depending on the child’s age, point in development, personality, and previous school experiences, these thoughts can trigger a varying amount of emotional responses. A five year old just beginning their school experience will naturally be worried about being separated from his or her parent(s), while the concerns of a thirteen year old typically revolve around increased work load and social relationships. Most kids will be concerned about who their teachers are, and who their fellow classmates will be.

Some children may have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or report nightmares. Other children may cry and initially refuse to go to school. This behavior is more common in early childhood, and normally subsides within the first few weeks. Occasionally, children can experience anxiety for a short period of time upon arriving at school, but this also typically resolves itself within a few weeks.

There are some steps you can take to calm youself and your child before school begins. Transitions are difficult, and going from staying up late and sleeping in all summer long isn’t easy for anyone. Getting organized ahead of time and starting a new sleep schedule a week before school starts can help curb anxiety. This includes practicing the morning routine, getting your child’s backpack and materials together, and establishing expectations about homework or other school related routines.

Most schools host open houses (also called peek at your seat) for kids and parents. Contact your school to ask if there are PTA newsletters, social media pages or other ways in which you can stay in touch with parents. This way you will feel in the loop, and can ask questions easily. The school can also assist with any concerns about affording school supplies and lunches.

Lastly, a special family event as summer ends is an important way to give you and your child closure before the school year starts. A special treat, dinner, move night or other fun outing can help wrap up your summer in a positive way!

If anxious behavior does not resolve over the first 2-3 weeks of school, parents should consider the possibility that their child is experiencing significant anxiety. There are some recognizable signs that a child is experiencing a specific anxiety disorder related to school. These signs can include frequent stomachaches and/or headaches, nightmares and difficulty sleeping or waking up for school. Many children experiencing an anxiety disorder related to the school setting will demonstrate their anxiety through acting out behaviors including tantrums when it’s time to leave for school, regularly skipping school, increased irritability, and social isolation. If you have serious concerns, be sure to contact your child’s school and consider seeking professional counseling services. To make an appointment with a licensed counselor at Blue Sails Counseling, please visit www.bluesalescounselingandconsulting.com, call 410-231-0488 or email us at information@bluesalescounselingandconsulting.com.

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Erica Gunther Linville
Erica Gunther Linville, M.Ed., LGPC, works as a counselor at Blue Sails Counseling in Lusby, MD and as an Elementary School Counselor for Calvert County Public Schools. She has over 10 years of experience working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings. Her experience includes working with Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Depressive Disorders, and other behavioral disorders. Erica earned her M.Ed. in School Counseling from Loyola University Baltimore and her B.S. in Psychology from Towson University. She is a Licensed General Practicing Counselor (LGPC), Certified Professional School Counselor (CPSC)and Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). Aside from working with children, Erica enjoys working out at CrossFit Merit in Prince Frederick, MD with her husband, family and friends. She spends her free time reading fictional stories on the beach, jogging with her two dog babies Jack and Jordy and taking lots of pictures, videos and blogging for CrossFit Merit on social media.