After months of online learning and a lack of social connection during the pandemic, some kids and teens are feeling anxious about returning to full-time, in-person learning this fall.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics and pediatricians locally are expecting more kids will struggle to confront their anxieties as they return to school,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “Even though it seems ‘Oh, my gosh, this is going to be great,’ a lot of kids have lost some of their social confidence during this time of intense isolation.”

Medical providers and mental health specialists say middle school- and high school-aged kids may be more prone to feeling anxious about returning to school. Some kids often don’t recognize their anxiety for what it is and, instead, may think there is something wrong with them. Look for behaviors that indicate they are feeling anxious, including:

  • Crying
  • Irritability
  • Stomach aches or headaches
  • Clinginess
  • Decreased or increased appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating

Providers at Eugene Pediatric Associates recommend parents try these tips to support their anxious child and to help smooth the transition back to school:

  • Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings. Let them know that what they are feeling is normal and OK and that you are there to help them.
  • Be mindful of what your family is eating. What you put into your body can affect how you think and feel.
  • Strive to get an hour of physical activity each day. Exercise is something families can do together and it is a healthy outlet to reduce stress, ease anxiety and improve mood.
  • Create a routine. Most kids thrive on having consistency in their lives, which consequently helps them feel in control. Start by helping your teen or child follow regular times to wake up and go to bed.

If your child has been staying up late and sleeping in during the summer, start transitioning them back to their schooltime sleep schedule. Beginning two weeks before school starts, move your child’s bedtime up 20 minutes every three nights until they are back on schedule.

Dr. Bradshaw also recommends helping your children practice gratitude and redirect their anxious thoughts in a more positive way. “This can be done by journaling, making gratitude lists or by going around in a circle with the family and talking about things you’re feeling positive and grateful for.”

If you have a younger child struggling with anxiety and other feelings that they are having a difficult time processing, your child may benefit from watching this three-minute video titled “Just Breathe,” by Julie Bayer Salzman and Josh Salzman. It features elementary school-aged children talking about how they use mindfulness to calm themselves when they get anxious or angry.

Starting the conversation
A common misconception about anxiety is that talking with your child about it will make them even more anxious. The truth is that addressing the topic and offering your child reassurance that anxiey is a common and normal experience—and that it can be managed—will help them feel better and more supported.

Encourage your teen or child to open up about any worries they may be having. Acknowledge that those concerns are real. Be supportive, but be careful not to burden your child with your own concerns and anxious thoughts.

“I think one of the biggest worries I’m seeing in my patients is that they don’t want to make their parents more anxious with their problems because they know their parents have a lot on their own plates,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “Too many kids are trying to be caretakers for their parents by keeping their feelings bottled up.”

Being a good listener and empathetic to your child’s concerns while modeling positive coping skills increases the chances that they will listen to your advice and discuss their fears and concerns with you in the future.