British Columbia

3 tips to beat back to school anxiety

September can induce anxiety in kids who are worried about starting at a new school, making new friends and meeting new teachers.

Clinical counsellor Saskia Roland says concrete tasks like shopping for school supplies can help

Many children will experience some form of anxiety at the prospect of returning to school next week. Here are some ways parents can help kids cope with that stress. (Getty Images)

September can induce anxiety in kids who are worried about starting at a new school, making new friends, meeting new teachers or having to do homework again.

"With younger children, you'll see things like sleep disturbance, stomach aches, headaches, problems with things like not wanting to eat, or wanting to eat a load of candy," said Saskia Roland, a clinical counsellor in North Vancouver.

Older children are more vocal and will talk about the things that worry them.

Here are Roland's tips on how parents can help their kids deal with anxiety. 

1. Talk about past successes

Saskia Roland is a clinical counsellor in North Vancouver. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

Roland says the best way to help ease your child's anxiety is to talk about what's happened in the past.   

"With older children, it's better to say something like, 'Well, remember last year? You went to school and you were worried, but you managed fine with a new math class or a new high school?'"

With younger children, Roland recommends referencing something more recent, such as a summer camp where they made new friends or managed new situations.

"You want to go back to a memory that they have of something real, rather than something future."

2. Do concrete, school-related tasks

Over the next week, many parents will be buying back to school supplies. Roland said it's a good idea to make a fun activity out of personalizing school equipment with decorations, for example.

"Kids love doing that. That gives them something concrete and real to do."

Children going to high school will be looking for new clothes, and taking them shopping can be an effective way of easing them into the idea of having to return to school, she said. 

Roland said it's also good to start adjusting their sleep routines now so that they're prepared to start waking up in time to make it to class. 

3. Familiarize them with new environments

If your child has a higher level of anxiety, Roland suggests getting them accustomed to their school layout before their first day of class. 

"I get them to meet the teacher before school starts. They go to the playground with a parent. Sometimes, they even get a photo album of the school so they can look through what the environment will be like."

At the same time, Roland cautions that parents can actually overwhelm their children with back-to-school activities and make the problem worse. 

"Don't do too much, emphasize the change or make it a bigger deal than it really is," she said.  

Tips for anxious parents

If you as a parent are feeling a little anxious, Roland's best advice is, "As much as possible, keep your anxiety to yourself.

Don't burden your children by telling them how you're afraid they won't be able to cope, Roland said.

"You want to imbue faith that the child will be able to manage.

"Take a deep breath, get through the first week, and then see what happens."

To hear the full interview with Saskia Roland, listen to the audio labelled: How to recognize and address your kid's back-to-school anxiety.