Around this time of year many students start to feel anxious about going back to school. Depending on the age of and the student, the nerves can make themselves known in different forms, including procrastinating shopping for back to school supplies or crying uncontrollably at the mention of the word “school”.
Although younger children have different stresses than those of high school students, they both have legitimate reasons to feel nervous about the first day of school: a new environment, more responsibilities and the unknowing of what lies ahead, among them. With studies showing that students that prepare for a new academic year with the help of their parents perform better than their counterparts, the need to understand and address the stress becomes vital.
For younger children, the fear mostly comes with morning separation and the thought of having “mean” teachers. To help first year students adjust, Barbara Potts, Elementary Vice President of the American School Counselor Association, suggests talking to the student’s teacher and creating an action plan to kick off the calendar year. “Teachers can help make students feel good in the classroom by assisting them with making friends on the playground and at lunch,” she says. “A counselor can also offer support by meeting the student at the front of the school and walking him to his classroom”. To help build self-confidence, Potts also suggests encouraging teachers to include various small group activities into the classroom agenda.
Unlike grammar school students, most high schoolers don’t fear new teachers or leaving their parents’ side. Their anxiety comes from their fellow classmates. High school students are at the age where they want to find a group of like-minded peers who will accept them as part of their group. Their concerns are mostly with fitting in and being “good enough”. This is where sports teams, clubs, extracurricular activities, and friendship circles can make the difference on how the student spends their time and how they perform academically.
Family therapist Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW encourages these safe havens as ways to make students become comfortable with their school environment. According to Kendrick, looking into the possibility of joining clubs before the new school year starts is a good way to cut down on first-day stress. “Encourage your child to follow extracurricular activities based on his own interests, curiosities, and abilities, not on whether a certain pursuit will grant him automatic acceptance to a clique,” she stated.
Setting goals prior to the firs day of school may also lessen the anxiety. By doing so, students will know what to focus on during the school year, rather than stepping into class without a plan of action.