8 tips to ease back-to-school worries


By Mark R. Sanders LPC, CAS
St. Raphael Counseling 

Football training camps are in full swing, the sun is setting just a little bit earlier every day and I spotted Halloween candy in the grocery store the other day. So, ready or not, the new school year is upon us!

This time of year can be exciting and exhilarating, as new opportunities are available for our children. New teachers, new friends, new activities and sometimes completely new schools can be both exciting and anxiety-inducing. With new experiences often comes fear and anxiety related to the return to the more formal way of life than is typically part of summertime.

St. Raphael Counselors do see children and adolescents throughout the summer, but the start of school typically sees a major increase in new admissions as students try to cope with the realities of what is expected of them in the educational system. Challenges from academic difficulties, mental health symptoms and issues with friends and teachers can surface early in the school year. We also see many parents who are trying to support and encourage their children but may not be sure how to approach each unique situation.

Keep in mind that transitions like this are typically pretty anxiety-provoking for even the most functioning families and individuals. It is our human nature to get used to life as it is (i.e. the typically drastically less organized summertime) and when that routine shifts, it can cause behavioral and physical responses, some positive and some negative.

Here are some ideas regarding how to make the return to school as seamless as possible:

1. Back to school is stressful for every family. Make it easier for everyone by not overcommitting to too many activities. This can be hard to do, especially for older students who have a wide range of interests. I’ve often found that going full throttle in a few activities is better than being partially present in many.

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2. The soccer superstar in 7th and 8th grade may not even make the 9th grade soccer team. This may also apply to academics — 4th grade math may be much more difficult than 3rd grade math. Helping your child cope with these changes and adjustments will provide a blueprint for them on managing their expectations and challenges in the future.

3. It is helpful for everyone, including parents, to start revamping sleeping, eating, screen time and other habits in advance of the school year. Waiting until the last minute to return to a regular schedule can make the first few days of getting up early (after a summer of lazy mornings) not very fun! Additionally, since you can expect that your child will be extra tired at the beginning of the school year, preparing for more evening structure and an earlier bedtime can be helpful for the first week or two.

4. Some children are anxious about going into a new grade, finding new friends, interacting with new teachers and managing new expectations. If possible, try to meet the teacher ahead of time and explore the classroom. It’s amazing how much just seeing something as simple as where their desk is going to be can settle a lot of anxieties.

5. Don’t forget about the family activities that nourish your child and the family. Keeping activities in place such as family dinners, going on walks, family game nights, attending Mass and praying together can also soothe the transition and make the return to school less jarring.

6. So much of our lives, whether we are adults or children, can be impacted greatly by how we think about something. Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford’s famous line, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right,” applies to all of us. So, encourage your child to be optimistic and excited (as much as possible) about school and discuss language around negativity and unreasonable fear. This goes for parents as well — the beginning of school should be a time of great optimism.

7. For parents with college-aged students, there are other considerations. Going away to school, being out of the house for the first time, learning how to balance responsibilities and expectations, finding new friends, exploring new opportunities and pushing for greater independence are just some of many factors that can challenge a family. Providing opportunities for open discussion about these and other facets of early adulthood can be very helpful in this phase of life.

8. Finding appropriate levels of parental participation throughout the school year is also key. This will vary from student-to-student based on age and independence level. Talking to your student about your participation can be a great way to learn about his or her own expectations of the school year and hopefully keep the parents from adding even more stress to their children.

There are infinite other ways to prepare for school, but simply keeping in mind the normality of anxiety with new experiences, the need to monitor progress and expectations and paying attention to changes in your child’s thoughts and behaviors can be very important in their striving for success.

All of us at Catholic Charities St. Raphael Counseling hope you and your family have a great 2023-24 school year. Please give us a call to set up an appointment if we can do anything to help you and your family succeed.