Top worries parents have when kids start school

If your thoughts about back to school bring on some parental anxiety, it’s totally normal, and you’re not alone. Support strategies can help.

Summer’s over for the kids, and they’re headed back to school.

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It’s supposed to be an exciting time, so why, as a parent, am I the one feeling so anxious about it?”

If you have thoughts like that, just know — it’s totally normal, and you aren’t alone.

A child starting school can be a stressful time for parents, not only because of their own stress but also because of their child’s stress. Even though these anxious or nervous feelings certainly are not fun to experience, there are several ways to ease the discomfort you may be feeling about your child going to school. This article will outline some of the triggers for parental anxiety and helpful tips to manage your feelings about it.

Why do I have anxiety about my child starting school?

Let’s face it: Sometimes letting go is hard! Parental anxiety refers to the stress, worries or apprehensions about your child beginning a new chapter of life such as going to school. Having conflicting feelings about the start of the school year is OK. It can be exciting, and it can be worrisome. Making space for your feelings and your child’s feelings is key.

Fear of the unknown and lack of control

When a child is at home, there may be more of a feeling of predictability and control over their environment: what they are doing, who they are spending time with and what they are exposed to. When they are at school, it’s a different story. Below are a few triggers for school-related anxiety for parents and children.

  • Transition to a new environment and unfamiliar routines
    • School can come with new and regimented routines. There are set times for when class begins, what time everyone eats lunch, and so on. It may take some time to adjust to a new routine, but you and your child will soon know what to expect daily within the first few weeks of school.
  • Concerns about how the child will adapt and thrive in the new school setting
    • Everyone wants their child to fit in and enjoy where they are spending the majority of their time. Keep an open line of communication with your child and their teacher(s) about their experiences at school and address any issues as they arise.
  • Parent’s past experiences
    • If school wasn’t a great experience for you, you could project fears of bullying or other negative scenarios onto the child’s experience. Just because you experienced something does not mean your child will. You also can support them and handle it in a different way than how you experienced it.

Safety and well-being

Attending school is a part of a child’s normal educational and social journey, but it is normal to consider the following when you imagine your child going to school:

  • Apprehension regarding the child’s physical and emotional safety at school
  • Worries about bullying, peer pressure or negative influences
  • Concerns about the child’s health and well-being while away from parental supervision
  • Concerns about the child’s social interactions, making friends, and fitting in

Separation anxiety

Letting go is a difficult but necessary process for every parent as their child grows up. It’s OK to feel emotional about a child gaining new independence and spending less time at home.

This can be difficult for both parents and children. It might be hard to witness your child experiencing separation anxiety, but you can comfort them and support them by letting them know how much you care about them. Help them understand when they can expect to see you again and offer ideas about positive things they can to look forward to when at school. Make their teacher aware that they are experiencing some anxiety. Separation anxiety also can create parental anxiety as you find yourself worrying about their worry while away from you. Managing your own anxiety and feeling confident that they’re in good hands while away from you will, in turn, help your child feel more confident to be away from you during the school day.

Coping strategies and a support network are key pillars when it comes to managing parental anxiety.

  • Identify and acknowledge the anxiety.
    • Identifying when your anxiety is occurring gives you the opportunity to implement coping techniques to relieve your symptoms. Acknowledging your anxiety also can allow you to begin to better understand what to expect and how to respond effectively.
  • Seek support from other parents, friends or professionals.
    • Talking to trusted people, loved ones or a therapist can relieve stress, especially if they can reassure you that you are not alone and your feelings are valid.
  • Develop coping strategies, including self-care practices and stress management techniques.
    • Take care of yourself with a healthy lifestyle, and do things that encourage relaxation.
  • Establish an open line of communication with the child’s school and teachers.
    • Stay in touch with the school and teachers, so you can communicate openly about your child’s experiences, as needed.
  • Seek professional help.
    • If parental anxiety becomes overwhelming or interferes with completing daily tasks, consider seeking support from a behavioral and mental health professional. They can provide specialized guidance and personalized coping strategies, address any underlying factors that may be causing your anxiety and, if necessary, recommend medication options.

Unfortunately, sometimes when a parent is anxious this can cause the child also to become anxious. Your child’s pediatrician can be a great resource for helping you to manage your child through this transition. If your child needs a school physical or annual check up, now is an opportunity to schedule an appointment and address any concerns that may be affecting your child.

Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, has more than 25 pediatrician office locations. Find the location nearest you for support during back-to-school season and all year long.