Mental Health Moment: Back-to-school anxiety

closeup on the face of a young child with mask on
Going back to school has always made kids anxious — and their caregivers too! What will they wear? Will their friends be nice to them? Will they make new friends? Who will they sit with at lunch? Will a school bully be in class with them? And so on … .

This year’s return to school has an added layer of anxiety due to the pandemic. And as this article from the Child Mind Institute notes, “children who are heading back to the classroom this fall are facing unusual challenges, and one of them is an overall feeling of anxiety about what to expect.”

The article goes on to give some tips on how to address this anxiety:

  • Validate your child’s feelings
  • Set the tone by being calm and confident
  • Help your child focus on positive things
  • Make sure your child has a predictable routine
  • Emphasize safety and encourage flexibility
  • Know when to seek further help

Please see the full article for more detailed tips and ideas to help your child gain confidence and independence for a smooth school transition. It is also available in Spanish. Plus the Child Mind Institute has Back to School Tips for Parents.

And if you have a teenager heading back to school, you might be seeing a lot of turmoil. As with younger kids, it’s important to accept that these feelings are valid. And it’s also important to realize that teens may process these feelings differently than younger folks. A recent New York Times article (PDF linked below*) gives tips on how to support teens as they head back to school, with specific ideas on how to get their feelings out and flowing, without them turning into a flood. Some of the ideas mentioned are:

  • Rather than trying to “fix” your teen’s problems, “listening intently and offering genuine compassion may be all that’s needed.” 
  • “Adolescents looking for psychological relief may need a good cry to release their frustration ...Others might temper their emotions by engaging in intense physical activity. So long as it’s safe, don’t be put off by how young people discharge psychological tension.”
  • Teens might take a needed break “from worrying about the Delta variant by getting lost in a book or TikTok videos.”
  • Getting outside and moving around can also help.
  • Some may want to talk via text, rather than face-to-face.
  • As with younger kids, caregivers who are calm and confident can act like a sandbag during a flood.
  • And sometimes distraction is the best remedy. 
  • They also discuss when it’s important to be concerned and look for more help. 

We also wrote a previous post on teen mental health that we invite you to read. And again, we are here to support you, so let us know what we can do (contact email below). 

This Mental Health Moment article was written for our Family Newsletter, available in English and Spanish. Please sign up here and you can email us at with any questions.

*If you do not subscribe to the New York Times you can get full access to their articles through the library’s databases. Here is a PDF of the article mentioned from our database: Damour, L. (2021). How to support teenagers as they head back to school, as well as a direct link into the database. Contact us for more information.