British Columbia

Summer's over! Experts offer tips to deal with back-to-school anxiety

Getting into regular habits and keeping close connections at school can be a big help, experts say.

Getting into regular habits and keeping close connections at school can be a big help, experts say

Children and Youth Mental Health survey finds that anxiety is a concern for a majority of youth. (Paulius Brazauskas/Shutterstock)

We all knew it was coming: the summer holidays are over. And for students, that means another school season filled with tests, exams, homework, and maybe the odd visit to the principal's office.

But whether students are going back elementary school, high school, or even university, it can be a very stressful and anxious time.

Rebecca Mitchell, a registered clinical counsellor and a therapist at The Wishing Star in Surrey, B.C., and Tara Black, associate director of health promotion at SFU, recently shared tips on CBC's B.C. Almanac for students and parents to help deal with the anxiety of going back to school.

1. Make room for the unknown

"It's important to set a good tone," said Mitchell.

"The first day of school is filled with so many unknowns, even for children who have been in school for many years."

Mitchell says a lot of unknowns, like who is in your class, what your teacher will be like, or how much homework you can expect, can produce anxiety each year for children entering the classroom. 

"One of the things that's important to set up for children is giving them that sense of hope, and making room for the worry of the unknown," said Mitchell.

Mitchell says letting kids know their uneasiness is normal can actually ease them back into the school year by making them feel like it's a common obstacle that can be overcome.

2. Develop new habits off the bat

But the unknowns don't just affect children; they also affect young adults who are entering college or university and experience new things like large lectures rooms and increased workloads for the first time.

Tara Black says post-secondary school can be intimidating at first, and getting a hold on it early can be really helpful.

"We encourage students to establish, right from the start, some lifestyle activities that will really help them throughout the semester," said Black.

Some good tips include staying on top of readings before they pile up before midterm season, which can save you from the much-dreaded all-nighter. Black says SFU offers online resources to help students maintain their mental health and wellness.

According to Mitchell, routines will also play dividends to a child's mental wellness when going back to school, especially ensuring they get enough rest each night.

Research has shown that many teenagers need more sleep than they think. (Shutterstock)

3. Keep close connections

Mitchell also says close connections between children, their teachers and fellow students can also play a large role in avoiding stress and anxiety.

"As humans, we're wired for connection," said Mitchell. "We depend on that to survive."

"When we think about a child going off into school and being in a setting where they're not feeling connected for six hours, that's quite unsettling," she said.

"We suggest things like having opportunities, especially for young children, to see a parent interacting with the teacher in a positive way, because we sort of use our existing attachments to transfer that to new attachments," said Mitchell.

Mitchell says if a child sees a parent and a teacher engaging in a positive conversation, they tend to have a stronger sense of security in the classroom.

With files from CBC's B.C. Almanac

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Experts on how parents and students can feel better about going back to school