It’s back-to-school season, and if you’re a parent, you’re probably experiencing a lot of mixed emotions. Part of you may be relieved that you’ll get some of your time back, but you might also feel sad about summer vacation being over. Many parents also face heightened stress and anxiety during the back-to-school season.
Especially in today’s world, it’s completely understandable to feel anxious about sending your child to school. You might worry about what could happen to them. Many parents also feel stressed at the thought of having to reinstate school-year schedules and rituals (like early wake-up times).
It can be a challenge to cope with your own anxiety on top of whatever feelings your child is having about going back to school. With the right stress management and support, you can get through one of the most difficult times of the year as a parent and protect both your own and your child’s mental health.
Stress management tips for parents for coping with your own anxiety
It’s important to realize that as stressful as going back to school can be for some kids, it can be just as anxiety-inducing (sometimes, even more so!) for parents as well.
There are so many reasons why you, as an adult, could be facing anxiety about your kid(s) going back to school. You might feel sad about the rapidly passing years, especially if this is your little one’s first time at school. You might, understandably, worry about the dangers that your child could face at school. Your child may have struggled – socially or academically – at school before, which adds to your anxiety.
Whatever it is, your feelings are valid. It can be very scary to let go and allow your child enough independence to go to school and enter a world where you aren’t there to protect them.
As valid as these feelings may be, it’s also critical that you’re able to cope with anxiety. Not only is back-to-school anxiety harmful to your overall mental health, but it can also add to any anxiety that your child may be feeling.
Here are some tips for coping with your own anxiety about back-to-school.
Trying to ignore your feelings isn’t likely to make them go away. Although healthy distractions can be a good coping skill when emotions become overwhelming, at some point, it’s necessary to face them.
Naming what you’re feeling can make the feelings hold less power over you. Rather than constantly trying to push these feelings aside, try recognizing them and naming them. Own what you’re feeling: “I am anxious about my child going back to school.”
You can even try naming, specifically, what you’re anxious about. “I’m frightened about school shootings.” “I’m worried that my child will get in trouble.” “I’m anxious about my child getting bullied.” Self-awareness of your thoughts and feelings is an important part of coping.
Even if naming your feelings doesn’t make them get any less intense, it’s a good first step toward stress management and getting support.
Talk about it
Talking to other parents about your worries may help you feel validated and calm. Find a stress management support system of people you can talk to and count on. You might be connected to some other parents at your child’s school; if not, try joining an online support group or talking to friends and family members.
If your child is feeling anxious about going back to school, it’s important to maintain open conversations with them about it as well. But it’s critical that you don’t project your own worries onto your child. Kids pick up on underlying feelings, and it’s important they know that you have confidence in them.
Any conversation you have with your child should be to help them feel more confident; these conversations are not an appropriate place to work out your own feelings.
Focus on the positive
It’s also important to identify any thinking patterns that could be making you feel more anxious. Many people ruminate when they’re facing stress or anxiety – this is when we go over our worries over and over again in our minds. This isn’t helpful, and can actually make anxiety worse.
Instead of ruminating on the worst-case scenario, try focusing on the positive aspects of back-to-school. For example, what do you hope your child will get from going back to school? What are the things they enjoy at school; who are their favorite teachers and friends? What are the positives for you – for example, what will you do with the extra time?
Trying to intentionally redirect your mind to the positive can help you get out of the downward spiral of anxiety.
Seek stress management support
If your anxiety feels overwhelming, or if the worries and negative thoughts just won’t go away, then you could benefit from professional mental health support. Seeing a mental health counselor doesn’t mean that you’re “crazy” or “weak.” Many people see counselors for all sorts of reasons.
A mental health professional can help you:
- Work out your feelings and where they’re coming from
- Feel validated in your emotions and experiences
- Identify and challenge negative thinking patterns that might be causing you to feel worse
- Learn new coping strategies to deal with painful feelings
You don’t need to wait until you’re in a mental health crisis to start working with a mental health counselor. Back-to-school anxiety is a perfectly understandable reason to seek professional support, and it can keep your mental health from ever going into crisis mode.
You may even have free access to a licensed counselor through an EAP like MINES & Associates. If we are your EAP, all you need to do is get in touch, and we can connect you to a free and confidential counselor 24/7.
How to help your child deal with back-to-school anxiety
On top of your own worries, you may also need to help your child with their own back-to-school anxiety. Many children face separation anxiety when starting school. They may also have valid concerns, just like you do, about what could happen to them while at school.
Here are some stress management tips to help your child get through back-to-school anxiety and have a successful and happy school year.
- Validate their feelings. Try to avoid saying things like, “Don’t be silly, of course you won’t get bullied.” Find a way to validate their feelings without accepting their fears as the truth. For example, you might say: “It’s very scary to go into a situation where you don’t know anyone, and it’s understandable to worry that you’re going to get bullied. I believe that you’ll make lots of friends, and if you do get bullied, I’ll be right there by your side to work through it together.”
- Project confidence. Don’t allow your own worries to impact how your child feels. Even if you aren’t 100% confident yourself, try to make confident statements when you talk about school with your child.
- Practice routines. It can be helpful to start getting into the routine of school before the actual first day. For example, you could start an earlier wake-up time, drive by the school, or even make an appointment so your child can meet their new teacher.
- Have open conversations about more serious problems. Especially with adolescents, it can be critical to know the signs of things like substance use, bullying, self-harm, and more. Talk to your child openly about these topics and support them in navigating them.
Here at MINES & Associates, we’re rooting for both you and your child(ren) to have a successful 2023-24 school year.
As always, if you’d like to talk to a counselor or have any questions about your benefits, you can get in touch with us.
To your wellbeing,
The MINES Team