Back to School Blues

With the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year, life can be a stressful experience for both parents and children.   Returning to school, or for that matter beginning a journey called formal education, may well be a stressful life experience for children.  You child may be capable of coping with change and parents can help them in the process by providing a setting that fosters resilience and encourages them to share and express their feelings about starting school or returning to another school year.

For parents, there may be anxiety about their children starting a new school, changing school districts, facing a more rigorous academic year or dealing with difficult social situations. At the same time, children may experience anticipatory anxiety for the unknown routes, peers, bullying, expectations, classmates, teachers, or even the new school building.   This may not only be stressful for the child but for family members, whether it’s the children hopping on the school bus or their parents who have to wave goodbye.

Stressful Transitions may lead to the blues.

There are numerous changes or transitions that both parent and child must adapt to.  Consider getting into a different sleep routine.  It may be helpful to get into a school routine before the first week of school.  This will aid both parent and child in easing the shock of waking up early. Organizing things at home like the child’s backpack, binder, lunchbox or cafeteria money ahead of time will help make the first morning go more smoothly. Consider having a healthy, yet kid-friendly lunch, as this will help keep your child energized throughout the day. It may also be helpful to visit and walk through the building and visiting your child’s locker and classroom to help ease anxiety of the unknown for the child and the parent, as well.

What may be helpful in being a good parent?

Get to know school principal and counselors: If your child is starting a new school, walk around your block and get to know the neighborhood children. Visit with the office personnel and at least a school official. Try and set up a play date, or, for an older child, find out where neighborhood kids might go to safely hang out, like the community pool, recreation center or park.

Spend time and discussion with your child: Asking your children about their fears or worries about going back to school will help them share their burden. Inquire as to what they liked about their previous school or grade and see how those positives can be incorporated into their new experience.

Share feelings and empathize with your child: School transition may be difficult, but also positive and exciting. Both can raise anxiety.  Let your children know that you are aware of what they’re going through.  Assure them that you will be there to help them in the transition. Nerves are normal, but highlight that not everything that is different is necessarily bad. It is important to encourage your children to face their fears instead of falling into the trap of encouraging avoidance.

When you as a parent are unsure about what to do, you should ask for help.   Knowledge of the school and the community will better equip you to understand your child’s surroundings and the transition he or she is undergoing. Meeting members of your community and school personnel will foster support for both you and your child. If you feel the stress of the school year is too much for you and your child to handle on your own, seeking expert advice from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, will help you better manage and cope. To learn more about stress and mind/body health connection, visit the American Psychological Association’s “Consumer Help Center” at

Sources and Resources

Miller, T.W.(2010) Handbook of Stressful Transitions across the Life Span.  New York: Springer Publishers Incorporated.

School Related Anxiety (2012) American Psychological Association Help Center.  Available at:

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Written by

Thomas is a Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist, Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention, University of Connecticut and retired service chief from the VA Medical Center and tenured Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Kentucky.

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