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Tips for Managing Back to School Anxiety

Back to school season – for some parents, it’s “the most wonderful time of the year” (do you remember that commercial too?). However, for those of us with anxious children, the back to school season can be seriously tough. Children and teens who regularly experience anxiety often struggle with changes and transitions, and switching suddenly from summer mode to school mode is a significant change (even more so if they are switching schools or dealing with new situations at home simultaneously). Returning to school often leaves them with a lot of unanswered questions, such as: Who will my teacher be? Will I have friends in my class? What if I get lost and can’t find my classroom? Teens might also be worrying about taking on new responsibilities, balancing school with hobbies or part-time jobs, and beginning to think about their future beyond secondary school, on top of the regular back to school concerns.

While it is normal to have some fears about returning to school, for an anxious child these fears can become overwhelming and place stress on the entire family. If you are struggling to help your anxious child through this back to school season, here are some strategies that might help you ease the stress for your child – and yourself!

  1. Establish a routine. Children and teens who struggle with anxiety often benefit from established routines. For younger children especially, it can help to slowly ease into or begin a back-to-school routine a few days before school actually begins. Ensure that they are eating healthy foods, maybe making lunches similar to what you would give them for school lunches, and that they are getting appropriate amounts of sleep for their age or individual sleep needs. I suggest starting to build a routine with them at least a week prior to the start of school, if at all possible.
  2. Talk to your child. Validate their fears, listen to them, and establish a routine or ritual where they can openly discuss their concerns with you. For example, teens are more likely to open up if you are doing something with them, such as going for a walk or taking a drive. Making it a regular thing can help keep you connected and encourage them to open up to you without the pressure of a sit-down conversation.
  3. Familiarize them with the environment. Take your child to the school, especially if it is a new school. You could walk or drive past the school a few times, or even spend some time together making use of the school grounds if possible (soccer? tag? duck-duck-goose?). Get them acquainted with their new surroundings so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming.
  4. Be prepared. Come up with a plan so that your child feels prepared for their first day or week. Have them describe their fears, and walk through how they could manage each situation if it did occur. This will help them to feel empowered rather than frightened. Or have them imagine other possible outcomes. When children/teens are anxious they often think of the worst case scenario – help them see that the worst case scenario is not the only possible scenario.
  5. Provide healthy distractions. If your child is focusing on their anxiety, and you are struggling to help ease their worry or help them think through it productively, try to provide a healthy distraction until they are able to reach a more relaxed state. Encourage them to think of other things, come up with as special end of first day snack or dinner, ask them about what they are excited about with returning to school (seeing friends, playing on the playground, the lunch cafeteria).
  6. Parents, watch your own behaviour. If you are also worried or nervous about your child’s first day this will have an impact on them. Practice your tried and true self care techniques to help ease your own worries, or try to use some of the above techniques on yourself. Sending your child to school can be just as stressful for you – if you ignore your own needs, you won’t be in a good position to help your child. Get your oxygen mask on first!
  7. Say goodbye and leave. This just may be the hardest thing to do, especially for first time parents dropping their children off. Saying goodbye several times or returning after you have left will not be helpful for your child. Rest assured that most of the time, your child will be fine without you – maybe not instantly, but it is perfectly normal if it takes them some time.


Written by Bliss therapist, Tammy Benwell. This post originally appeared on The Coach House Blog. 


Tammy Benwell is a Registered Social Worker who holds an undergraduate degree in Social Work from the University of Waterloo and Master’s degree in Social Work from Wilfrid Laurier University. She believes in fostering a collaborative, therapeutic relationship within which clients are best able to direct their own care. Tammy’s philosophy is best described as one which helps clients understand their role and their ability to achieve their desired happiness. In addition to providing therapy to individuals, couples, and families, Tammy’s work has also involved finding community supports for clients in distress, assisting with life transitions, and enhancing effective interpersonal communication styles.

Realistic Sleep Tips for Busy Students

When you’re in school, one of the most important keys to success is a decent night’s sleep. Yet for many students in university or college late night study sessions and coffee binges are normal and, unfortunately, necessary. Lectures and readings and essays and exam study sessions eat up your precious time, never mind balancing a social life, extracurriculars, and a job on top of your school work! Even writing that sentence was exhausting.

So how do you balance your busy schedule with your need for sleep? The recommended 7-8 hours might not be within reach, but we have some tips that just might help you reclaim your nights (or at least some of them).

  1. Limit afternoon naps to one hour if possible. You may have been up all night writing an 8 page paper and need some extra nap time to get you through your shift at work. Ultimately you know what’s best for you, but longer naps during the day tend to affect the quality of your nighttime sleep, so avoid those three hour afternoon naps when you can!
  2. Exercise as regularly as possible. Bodies that have been put to good use during the day sleep better at night. Take the stairs whenever you can, walk to class or to work, do some yoga in the morning – squeezing in small bits of physical activity whenever you can is still better than nothing at all!
  3. Try to create a relaxing bedtime routine for yourself. About a half an hour before you decide to go to bed put down the books, put away the phone, and do a few things that you find relaxing. It will make it much easier to fall asleep if you have allowed your brain to make that transition to a comfortable, sleep-ready state.
  4. Invest in earplugs or an eye mask if you share your sleep space with a roommate. Hopefully you generally try to respect one another’s sleep schedules, but if your roommate just has to read in bed or talk to their partner on the phone before they sleep, you will be happy to have some way to tune them out.


We know that the idea of a well-rested University student can seem laughable. But prioritizing a healthy sleep routine can actually make it easier for you to balance your busy schedule during the day.

Healthy Habits For A New School Year

Regardless of what year or grade you are entering into this September, the beginning of a new school year is a great time to formulate some new habits for yourself. You’ve likely had a break from the stress of due dates and exams, maybe even gone on a relaxing vacation or two, and hopefully feel refreshed and ready to tackle the new challenges before you.

The choices that you make these first few weeks could help set a fresh tone for this upcoming school year. To help with creating a heaIthy habit, it might be helpful for you to take some time to reflect on your previous year: what did you do right? What could you improve upon? What are some habits that you could change to make this year more productive, or less stressful for yourself? Answering these questions will help you determine the areas that are most important to you or the areas that you struggle with. From there you can focus on altering habits relating to those areas.

Here are some examples of habits that might be useful to you:

1. Get a planner and look at it every day. You can record assignment due dates, tests, study sessions, or appointments – anything that might easily slip through the cracks once your classes get busy. You can even write and track some of your goals in your planner, write inspirational or funny quotes to cheer yourself up, or keep track of fun time with friends! That way your planner won’t feel quite as dull.

2. Make a point to eat a healthy breakfast. Often students skip this meal, but we need nutrients to feed our brains and to keep up with the demands of this school year. Preparing the next day’s meals the night before might make it easier for you, as well as keeping fruit and nuts in your bag or better yet, in a bowl by your front door as it just might help you to remember on your way out the door.

3. Practice active reading and listening. Focus on the speaker, what they are saying and how they are saying it – they will usually give you clues as to what they think is important or interesting, and if they are the one testing you that could be very helpful information for you. When you read, really pay attention to the text. Write down anything that seems important to you and any questions you might have about what you are reading. Try to integrate what you are reading with what you are learning in other classes! The information will stick with you much better that way.

There are many more things that you can do to help you excel this school year, as long as you are willing to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and commit to the changes you decide to make.

For more information on creating a healthy habit or how to set yourself up for a successful school year, feel free to contact us at Bliss Counselling.

Jenna Luelo

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