Back to school anxiety: 5 ways to help your child

Updated: Sep 20

A new school year can cause stress, overwhelm, and anxiety for your kids! Here are 5 ways a licensed therapist suggests to help!

Going back to school is a scary time for kids - even for kids who tend to do well in a classroom setting. There are new people to meet, new expectations, big scary world events, and kids have an extreme lack of control and voice in most school settings.

The combination of these factors and more can make many kids more than a little nervous about going back to school. Anxiety can also take many forms.

Why do kids get anxious? Maybe it's because...

  • Peer pressure, worry about fitting in to their new or old social circles

  • Pressure to perform well academically

  • The pressure of maintaining social, academic, and extra-curricular skills

  • Trying to decide big things about their future when they don't know what they want to do yet

  • Knowledge of school shootings, substance use, or other dangerous activity on campus

  • Because they lose so much agency and control

  • Because it takes up SO much time and can feel inescapable

First, here's how to identify if your child is experiencing anxiety

Common anxiety related behavior might include :

  • Crying, anger, irritability, clinging

  • Stomach aches, head aches, general sense of not feeling well

  • Isolating, apathy, checking out

  • Increased sleep, trouble falling asleep

  • Sudden change of other patterns

So if your kid is experiencing some of these symptoms of anxiety, and you'd like to help them more - here are 5 things you can do to help your kid cope with their back to school anxiety.

5 things you can do to help your kid cope with their back to school anxiety.

  1. More game play

PLAY MORE GAMES. My number one piece of advice for almost everything. Yes, I mean video games! Play releases stress, helps regulate emotions, provides catharsis, reminds them of their skill and expertise, provides a connection for the two of you and MORE. Is it hard for you to remember how to be more playful? Try this:

2. Connection to future and bigger picture

Kids get told all the time that school is "preparation" for their future - which means they are acutely aware of what an artificial type of environment it is. Spending so much time in this kind of a space can create a lot of apathy as well as anxiety. To help combat this - make sure they are connected to the world outside of school! Find them other people of all ages who share their interests, big pools of diverse people to connect to, and lots of future things to look forward to!

3. A hell of a lot more choice

In school you.... don't really get to choose where you spend your time, who your teachers are, who you spend time with, what you are supposed to study... this lack of control ABSOLUTELY leads to a) anxiety and b)insecurity over their own ability to HANDLE the anxiety! They aren't trusted with when to go to the bathroom, so how are they expected to trust themselves over big life decisions?? Give them as much control and choice in every area you can WHENEVER you can.

4. Therapy with someone who understands

School counselors can be great resources, but they really aren't equipped to provide in-depth therapy. They are set up for testing, crisis resource providing, and often are responsible for hundreds of kids. Find your kiddo a therapist who can focus on your kid outside of a school setting.

5. Look into school alternatives

Please remember that if school is the cause of anxiety - there are alternatives! I say this as a therapist, a college professor for over a decade, and as a grown homeschooler. Alternative education opportunities vary in the United States on a state level, but they exist. Everything from charter schools, to private learning centers, forming a private school in your own home, unschooling, or taking an equivalency exam and just opting out. I say this with 100% certainty - public school does not provide anything to your child that you can't find an alternative for. If their anxiety related to school is about SCHOOL - then listen to your kid and find a better solution.

Resources for You

Have an anxious teen? Start here.

Have an anxious younger child?


Roya Dedeaux is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with several decades of working with teens and their families. She especially loves to work with homeschoolers and folks who feel like they don’t quite “fit the mold.” She is also the author of Connect with Courage: how to release fear and find joy in the places your kids take you. Check out her work, webinars, games, and other projects at

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