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July 29, 2022
By Rebekah Hall U of A System Division of Agriculture
LITTLE ROCK — As families prepare for the start of the school year in August, many
kids may struggle with anxiety about returning to the classroom. Brittney Schrick,
extension assistant professor and family life specialist for the University of Arkansas
System Division of Agriculture, said it’s important for parents to be patient with
their children, help them process “big feelings,” and get a head start on establishing
For some children, back-to-school anxiety can manifest physically as trouble sleeping,
stomach aches, headaches and getting easily upset. Schrick said that even for kids
who enjoy school, “it’s completely normal for them to be anxious about going back.”
Most students will be in a new grade, with a new classroom and a new teacher, and
they won’t know if some of their friends will be in their class. This uncertainty
is often at the root of kids’ anxiety.
Back-to-school anxiety may also “show up as preparation,” Schrick said.
“You might have children who are really concerned about making sure they get their
backpacks packed, or their school supplies purchased, and their names written on everything,”
she said. “If you’ve got a kid who’s very organized like that, that’s their way of
controlling their anxiety. If they’re super prepared, they’re not going to be as worried
The many disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – including inconsistent masking
requirements, switches between remote and in-person learning, and frequent illnesses
– have only exacerbated back-to-school anxiety and delayed many students’ social development,
“What we’re seeing is a lot of kids are socially behind, regardless of how old they
are,” Schrick said. “COVID definitely disrupted the school environment, and kids need
routine. They’re not always sure what to expect, and not being sure what to expect
is hard for kids, even all the way up through teenagers, but especially for little
As COVID cases are still high, Schrick said families will continue to see this disruption.
She advises parents to be patient with their kids and ask questions to better understand
“Ask questions and don’t assume that any sort of big feelings are intended to be disruptive
or malicious or mean-spirited,” Schrick said. “Because anxiety is hard, and it’s especially
hard for kids who don’t have words for it or can’t explain it. They’re not going to
come to you and say, ‘Mom, I’m feeling really anxious about starting school,’” Schrick
said. “They might say, ‘I don’t want to go to school, I hate school!’ or ‘I’m not
going to school.’ They may say things like ‘I don’t think my friends like me,’ or
‘I don’t want to be the only one wearing this shirt.’ It could be anything.”
It’s important to listen to children’s answers, “instead of assuming you know why
they’re upset,” Schrick said. By listening carefully, parents can help their kids
process these feelings.
“I think a lot of times, parents just want compliance, and it can cause more problems
than just taking a step back and asking, ‘What’s really going on here?’” Schrick said.
Some strategies for helping kids cope with anxiety include practicing deep breathing
and taking time to help children ground themselves in the present moment. Prompting
a child to pay attention to what he or she can see, hear, touch, and how their body
feels can help kids calm down instead of worrying about the future. Schrick said visual
aids, such as “feelings thermometers” where kids can visually relate their emotions
to an illustrated facial expression or color scale, can also be helpful.
Schrick said it’s also important to get kids back to a normal bedtime and nightly
routine. Getting a head start on this process is key.
“Don’t wait until the day before school starts, because if you haven’t been in a routine
or if you’ve been letting kids stay up and sleep late, and all of a sudden you say,
‘We’re going back to 8:30 bedtime,’ their bodies can’t do that,” Schrick said. “Take
some time, preferably the week before school starts, to slowly get back into routines.”
Start gradually by bumping bedtime back 10 minutes earlier, then 15 minutes earlier,
to ease kids into the routine.
If a child continues to struggle severely with anxiety even after returning to their
school routine, Schrick said it may be time to visit with their school counselor.
“If a kid’s anxiety is so disruptive to their daily life that they can’t function,
even after they’ve been given time to adjust to a new situation, it would be worth
starting at the school counselor level, and then potentially seeking additional help
if that level isn’t sufficient,” she said.
For more information about family life and relationships, visit extension’s Personal and Family Wellbeing webpage.
To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension
Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division
of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu/. Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture,
visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas
System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex,
gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital
or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and
is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Rebekah Hall email@example.com @RKHall_ 501-671-2061