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Your Healthy Family: Back to school anxiety in kids

Posted at 8:19 AM, Aug 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-09 08:19:24-04

NAPLES, Fla. — Thursday is the first day of school for most Southwest Florida students, and there are a lot of reasons kids might feel anxious. The David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health in Naples said there are signs to look out for, and ways to make that anxiety better.

The first bell day of school can bring a lot of anxiety and questions for students: Who will be in my classes? Will I have anyone to sit with at lunch? What if I don't understand the school work? Do I have all the supplies I need?

Jessica Liria, the Prevention & Education Manager at the David Lawrence Centers, said parents need to normalize that.

"It is normal that they're going to feel that type of stress, it is normal that they're going to feel that type of anxiety. And as adults, we kind of lose sense of, for a young person, that's their occurring world. That's all they know. Of course that's going to be really burdensome and heavy for them," she said.

She said that's especially true for kids in transitional stages.

"Students that are going from elementary to middle, middle to high school, those are big transitional times. New schools, new faces and new teachers," Liria said.

She said there are signs of back-to-school anxiety to look out for.

"When children and teenagers are feeling anxious about school, they're going to not want to get up. Is that typical adolescent behavior? Yes. But when we start to notice that there's a major change in how they're getting ready for school, maybe they're telling us 'I have a stomachache,' 'I don't feel good,' 'I have a headache,' or 'I don't want to go to school today,'" she said.

Liria said to have kids talk through what those feelings are like, then help them focus on the good.

"Try as a as a parent, or as an adult in the life of that young person, to help them get excited for school. It's going to be difficult. They're back to getting up early in the morning, they're back to homework. But let's kind of focus in on the positives and all the like good things that they're going to want to experience in that school year," she said.

If a child is worried about making friends, she recommends parents practicing social interactions with them.

"Introducing our young people to new people everywhere. At the park, at any activities that they're in. Helping them work on those social skills so that when they are in new company, and their new peers, they feel a little bit more open to talk to them. Say, 'Hi, my name is so-and-so. What's your name?'" Liria said.

She said to encourage them to look for friends who make them feel respected and positive.

She said if kids are worried about the code-red lockdowns and drills that seem to happen more often, talk to them about it.

"That gives our young people a little bit of a false sense of reality that these things happen so much, when they're not as common as those lockdown procedures make it seem. We have to help them understand that reality a little bit, and see that while there are certainly unfortunate circumstances, they are few and far between. We want to be proactive and preventative in anything that would happen, but at the same time, it's not something that occurs on a daily basis, and we shouldn't fear going to school over that," Liria said.