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Calming Back to School Fears: A Parent's Guide

Summer is coming to a close, and for our kids, that means it’s back to school. You’ve likely heard moans and groans from your own kids, but for a lot of young people, it can truly be an anxious time: New teachers, new schedules, maybe even a new school altogether. We have them well-prepped with new clothes and supplies, but as parents, we should focus on emotional preparation, too. For tips on dealing with back-to-school anxiety, we turned to OhioHealth social worker Carrie Mateyko.

Mother and two children making lunch sandwiches together at kitchen countertop

1. Develop a daily routine

Mateyko says children take comfort in routine, and sticking to a schedule can make things less frenetic, especially when there’s plenty to remember. “Keeping a calendar for the week is a great idea. It helps avoid late-night recollections of work due the next day, or forgetting to pack the right change of clothes for gym or other activities.” She says it also helps to prepare for the next day the night before. “Pack lunches in the evening, have them choose their outfits and set them out, and make sure you have permission slips signed and any money they might need for the day ahead.”

Young child smiling with bed sheets pulled up to their eyes

2. Get to bed on time

“We recommend children get 12-15 hours of sleep, and about 9-11 hours for teenagers,” says Mateyko. “Setting and keeping a regular bedtime ensures school-age kids get the quality sleep they need. It also makes waking on time easier and can limit the anxiety of a morning rush out the door.” She says it also helps to get into an evening routine that prepares your mind and body for sleep. “Give yourself an hour to relax. Use techniques like deep breathing and meditation, or even take a bath. About 30 minutes before bed, limit your use of technology, take a break from your phone and TV.”

Mother hugging upset child sitting on bed

3. Stay positive

“Remember that it’s natural for children and teens to have moments of anxiety,” says Mateyko. “As parents, it’s important for us to acknowledge these feelings — and the symptoms like stomach aches that can come with them — without judgment. Tell them it’s okay to be anxious sometimes. Remind them of times that they, and you, have faced similar problems and feelings and worked through them.” She also says it helps to positively visualize the day ahead. Even striking a Superman pose in your room for 30 seconds can help boost your confidence for the rest of the day.

Mother helping child read a book at a dining table

4. Communicate

“When kids know you’re truly listening and empathizing with them, it helps to relieve a lot of their stress,” says Mateyko. “Let them know they can confide in you. Do your best to remember or understand their daily experience. Use positive reinforcement. Even having family dinners, as challenging as that can be these days, creates a perfect atmosphere for discussing the day.

Young adult smiling as they eat a piece of food

5. Find balance in diet and activity

“Daily exercise is important, but so is down time,” says Mateyko. “Give yourself a moment to decompress after school, play around, have fun, and try not to overschedule yourself with extracurricular activities. She also recommends maintaining a healthy diet. “‘You are what you eat’ still rings true. If your body is getting what it needs to stay healthy, it will help both physically and emotionally.”