Understanding Back to School Anxiety

Young child with backpack viewed from behind, looking ahead with apprehension, symbolizing the uncertainty of returning to school.

The joys of summer โ€” the endless days, the freedom from routine, the outdoor adventures. But as the season transitions, the looming academic year can bring a palpable tension. This article delves deep into the back-to-school anxiety experienced by children, teens, and parents, presenting ways to combat this annual stressor.

What is Back-to-School Anxiety?

At its core, back-to-school anxiety stems from the challenges of transitions. The shift from vacation to the regimented environment of school can be daunting. For children, it’s often about separation anxiety or fear of the unknown. For teens, it’s a mix of social and academic pressures. And parents? They have their unique set of worries.

Children: Navigating a World of New Experiences

With her new backpack and lunchbox, Little Sarah is about to start kindergarten. The world of crayons, storytime, and nap mats awaits. But Sarah is nervous. She’s never been away from her parents for so long.

Tips for Managing Anxiety in Children:

  1. Open Conversation: Encourage children to express their feelings. If they can name their fears, they can face them.
  2. Visit the School: Familiarize your child with the new environment. A sense of familiarity breeds comfort.
  3. Role Play: Simulate potential situations, such as asking the teacher for help or making a new friend.
  4. Establish a Routine: Consistency offers children a sense of security.

Teens: A Complex Web of Pressures

James, 15, entering his sophomore year, dreads school. He worries about maintaining his GPA for college applications and wonders about fitting into the evolving social dynamics.

Tips for Teens:

  1. Set Realistic Goals: Encourage teens to focus on growth rather than perfection.
  2. Organize and Prepare: Equip them with the necessary tools โ€” from stationery to study strategies.
  3. Stay Connected: Fostering close friendships can be a shield against many school stresses.
  4. Seek Support: Encourage dialogue with trusted adults.

Parents: Watching From the Sidelines

Liam’s mom, Clara, recalls her son’s first day of school โ€” his tiny hand in hers, his nervous smile. Now, as Liam enters high school, she worries about peer pressures, academic challenges, and his general well-being.

Tips for Parents:

  1. Stay Involved: Know your child’s academic and social circles.
  2. Trust Your Parenting: The values you’ve instilled will guide your child.
  3. Seek Support for Yourself: Bond with fellow parents. Sharing eases worries.
  4. Open Communication: Ensure your child feels comfortable sharing with you.

Therapeutic Interventions: ART & DBT

Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART): Consider 10-year-old Mia. After a schoolyard bullying incident last year, she was dreading returning. Her therapist employed ART, using rapid eye movements to help Mia process and reframe that traumatic experience. The result? Mia returned to school with renewed confidence.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT): Teenager Alex was a perfectionist. The pressure to excel academically and his fear of disappointing his parents led to severe anxiety. DBT, with its emphasis on regulating emotions, improving relationships, and mindfulness, gave Alex the tools to navigate these pressures.

Why Seek Professional Help?

Early intervention can prevent back-to-school anxieties from escalating. Especially when these anxieties mask deeper issues, therapies like ART and DBT can provide targeted, effective strategies.


School transitions are challenging. But armed with understanding, effective strategies, and when necessary, therapeutic support, it’s possible to transform these challenges into growth opportunities.

If back-to-school anxiety looms large in your household, remember support is a click away. For a free consultation, reach out to CalgaryFamilyCounselling.ca for a free consultation. Together, let’s make this academic year a journey of joy, growth, and discovery.