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Psychiatrist offers tips to managing ‘back-to-school’ anxiety

With the first day of school quickly approaching for Stanly County Schools, some kids are excited – but others are riddled with the mental stresses of heading back to school. Dr. Crystal Bullard (child/adolescent psychiatrist for Atrium Health) offers local parents some tips in managing their child’s “back-to-school anxiety.”

1. Talk it out.

Discuss with your child what it is that they’re feeling anxious about. Explain what anxiety is and what it feels like, including stomach aches, throat tightness, sweaty palms and shakiness. Also, normalize anxiety by helping them understand most kids feel nervous on the first day of school.
“Feed your children lots of encouraging words to boost their self-esteem and talk about how this school year is going to go well,” says Bullard.

2. Be prepared.

Before the first day of school, take your child to the school to meet their teachers and tour the school. If your child is returning to the same school and feeling anxious, try to find out if there are any familiar children who will be on their bus, in the same classroom, or for older children, have a similar class schedule. Also, help your child pick out their outfit the night before – one your child likes and feels confident wearing.

“Knowing what to expect and feeling prepared helps to decrease anxiety,” says Bullard.

3. Monitor bullying.

Encourage your child to talk openly with you about bullying concerns. More serious bullying will need to be addressed by the school teachers, administration and parents.

“Keeping it a secret is never helpful,” says Bullard.

4. Keep a routine.

The home environment significantly affects a child’s school performance. This includes waking up each morning at the same time, setting a routine breakfast, lunch and dinner time and having a routine bedtime schedule.

“Children function best in a consistent home environment with structure and routine,” says Bullard.

5. Teach coping mechanisms.

Train your child to take some long deep breaths to calm anxiety. Breathing deeply slows down your heart rate and relaxes your muscles.

“This is a great way to help manage your nerves,” says Bullard.