How to Help Your Teen with Back to School Anxiety
Each and every summer I have a Back to School anxiety dream. While each year is slightly different, they are all variations on the same theme. It’s the first day of school and I’m not prepared.
Some years, I’m a student and I miss the bus or can’t find my schedule. Other years I’m a teacher and have been assigned to teach German instead of History or I’m teaching 30 kids in my childhood bedroom as my school is renovated. Dreams are weird, ya’ll.
I know I’m not the only person to be anxious about the start of a new school year. Each year presents new difficulties – new classes, teachers, friends, and activities. Considering I’m writing this during the summer of 2020, there’s also a global pandemic to freak us all out.
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But anxiety doesn’t have to take over our lives and limit us. There are ways you can help your teen deal with back to school anxiety!
Before we jump in, I just want to mention that I am not a mental health professional. If your teen’s anxiety seems to be all-consuming or leading to other negative behaviors, please contact a mental health professional.
How to Tackle Back to School Anxiety in Teens
Talk It Out
Many teens need to talk about their anxiety. But don’t make it “a talk”; keep it casual and low-pressure. Grab them when driving in the car, cooking together, etc. Let them know that anxiety is a normal emotion that we all experience. (Psst – I love this explanation for why we get anxious.)
Be sure to use my favorite phrase when talking with teens, “Tell me more about that.” This invites your teen to talk more in any way he or she wants; it’s an invitation to expand on their initial response.
Planning can help your teen feel more in control. Talk through the first few days and figure out what is causing your teen the most anxiety – finding classrooms, class content, making friends – and make plans about those topics. Encourage your teen to generate their own solutions, but be ready to gently help, if necessary. What has helped them in the past and might work now?
Sometimes things go off the rails. So, create some backup plans, too. What happens if the alarm doesn’t go off? There is a last-minute schedule change? What if your kid forgets something important at home on the first day? Having a backup plan in place can ease that anxiety and get everything back on track.
Additionally, think about adding routines at home, even before the school year begins. Routines provide structure – there are fewer surprises and your child can focus their mental energy on other things. Routines to consider – getting out the door, family meals, homework, and cleaning.
If your family only institutes 1 routine, please let it be bedtime. Yes, teens’ internal clocks are set later than adults. But that doesn’t mean that they should be going to bed at 1 or 2 am each day, even in the summer. Getting them on a consistent sleep schedule is vital for their mental health and the beginning of the school year.
Practicing situations ahead of time can also help ease anxiety. If possible, visit the school and find each classroom. Don’t forget to find the gym and auditorium! You might even get to chat with a teacher or two. Figure out where parent drop-off and pick-up takes place, too.
If your child is nervous about interacting with other people, short role-plays help to alleviate a LOT of anxiety. Just giving them possible phrases to say is helpful.
Yes, new things are scary, but your child can get through it. Remind them of the tough situations they have overcome in the past. Ask them about what they are looking forward to in the new school year and spend time focusing on those.
Always remember to model the behavior that you want to see in your teens. Normalize talking about mental health issues, create and follow your own healthy routines, and plan for the future.
I hope this gives you some practical ways to help your teen make the transition back to school this year!
How are you dealing with Back-to-School anxiety this year? Let me know in the comments below!
Related Posts: How to Prepare for the 2020-21 School Year, Preparing for Back-to-School: Make It a Great Year, What to Expect When Your Teen Starts High School, Back-to-School Routines You Can Start Now