Back-to-school creates change that often triggers anxiety

JAMESTOWN — Kids naturally begin to experience back-to-school jitters as the lazy days of summer wind down and a new school year approaches.

However, some children experience anxiety that may become much more serious than normal, according to Nicholas Davis, MD, a primary care physician with Jamestown Family Medicine.

A change in routine is often the cause for the anxiety children experience. Parents can help manage it in a healthy manner by identifying it early and taking steps to ensure it doesn’t become worse, said Dr. Davis, who practices with Premier Physician Network.

“A lot of kids are very used to routines, and they get attached to them,” said Dr. Davis. “Transitioning from being home all day to going to school all day or moving to a new school are big changes in routine that can sometimes result in anxiety.”

Children can’t always verbalize feelings of anxiety. Therefore, Dr. Davis recommends parents watch for outward signs or sudden changes in behavior to determine whether a child is dealing with basic nerves or serious anxiety.

The following can be red flags that a child is dealing with something more serious than simple back-to-school anxiety:

Unexpected acting out – A child who acts out in an unusual way or reverts to former behaviors. This may include a digression in toilet training for young children or an increase in tantrums for others.

A change in night behavior – Take notice of how well your child is sleeping at night. Trouble falling or staying asleep may be a sign of anxiety. The presence of nightmares may also be a sign that there is a lot on a child’s mind.

Declining social interaction – It’s normal for a child to become shy around new friends or hesitant to walk into a new classroom. However, a stronger desire to withdrawal from social activities may be a sign that help is needed.

Parents can play a key role in reducing back to school anxiety. Dr. Davis first recommends that parents help get their children excited about going back to school. He suggests focusing on the positive rather than sharing negative thoughts such as which subjects or teachers they dislike, which children can internalize.

“During the weeks leading up to school, talk about exciting things, like new classes, new projects or new levels of independence,” Dr. Davis said. “Parents getting more involved will increase a child’s excitement.”

Establishing a back-to-school schedule prior to the school year is also important. Dr. Davis suggests that kids start going to bed earlier and waking up earlier a week or two before the school year starts to help make the transition to a new routine much smoother.

Creating new connections is key for children who are changing schools. Dr. Davis encourages parents to find ways for their child to connect with other kids in the neighborhood who attend the same school. This helps reduce anxiety and gives them a familiar face to see in the hallways or on the bus. He also advises getting the children familiar with the new school building before the first day.

“Show them where their classroom is and where the bathrooms are. That way, on the first day of school, they aren’t facing a big, brand new building and don’t know where they are going,” Dr. Davis said.

For more information on back-to-school anxiety or to find a Premier Physician Network physician near you, visit