Dealing with back-to-school anxiety: Tips from mental health professionals

TV6 spoke with mental health professionals on how parents can help their kids deal with back-to-school anxiety.
Published: Aug. 9, 2021 at 7:46 PM CDT
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QUAD CITIES (KWQC) - Back to school time can be exciting for students as they reunite with friends and start a new grade, but for kids who struggle with anxiety, depression, or change, it can be a stressful time. TV6 spoke with mental health professionals on how parents can help their kids deal with back-to-school anxiety.

“If they’re afraid, talk them through that. What is it about it that makes it so scary?,” said Richard Whitaker Ph.D., the CEO of Vera French Mental Health Center. “Listen. Don’t judge. Don’t jump in. Don’t correct. Just listen and validate it. Help them to know that it’s okay to share their negative feelings with you about school, and then help them to understand that there’s maybe another side to it too.”

For children who haven’t started school yet, Whitaker said practicing a routine can help alleviate some anxiety.

“If you can, maybe take your child over to the school and pretend like it’s the first day of school and you’re walking up to that door. You can talk about where the cafeteria is, where the playground is, there’s so many things you can do to help lower the anxiety and the stress level about that first day at school,” he said.

“Opening up that line of conversation might give kids an opportunity to express some of their thoughts and feelings,” said Gerta Bardhoshi Ph.D., the Interim Director of Research and Training at the Iowa Center for School Mental Health. The center is a partnership with the University of Iowa and the Iowa Department of Education and will expand support for Pre-K through 12th-grade educators and schools.

Bardhoshi said before the pandemic, there was a high need for mental health services in adolescents but stressors related to the pandemic increased that.

“We saw such an increase, 30% increase in children, adolescents, being admitted to the ER with mental health concerns,” she said. “With some of the stressors during the pandemic, we are keenly aware of some of the challenges students are facing and also this is a unique opportunity to really pump up the resilience to help students come up with solutions to help them feel confident that they can take care of their mental health and they can feel successful in school.”

Bardhoshi also said it’s important to not disregard children’s feelings which could make anxiety persist.

“Validating student’s feelings. I understand. You’re very nervous. Let’s talk about it. Let’s come up with a plan. What are things you can do to help yourself? What are some things I can do? I think those can be really productive conversations,” she said, “Maybe asking them what went really well, what were parts that they were excited about, what were parts that were maybe a little bit difficult and asking creative things like, if you could describe your school day in one word, what would it be.”

Vera French offers resources for kids of all ages as well as same-day therapy during times of crisis. You can learn more about the services on their website.

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