Losing sleep over back-to-school season?  BC Children’s has tips to ease anxiety

CHILDREN and youth will soon say hello to a new school year. For many it’s an exciting time, but the change in routine can give some kids back-to-school jitters.

Meeting new teachers, worrying about where to sit at lunch, and wondering if they have classes with friends are common sources of anxiety for students of all ages, all the way from pre-school to high school.

“Children and youth can build up a lot of stress and anxiety about having to get back into a routine and what to expect when the new school year begins,” said Dr. Susan Baer, psychiatrist in the Mood and Anxiety Disorders clinic at BC Children’s Hospital. “These feelings are normal, and there are steps parents can take now to help ease the transition from summer break to the new school year.”

Dr. Baer recommends parents plan ahead and gradually expose kids to their environment and new schedule.

Tips for parents and caregivers:

  • ​Get into a routine one to two weeks before school starts: plan nutritious meals and snacks as well as morning / bedtime habits
  • Talk to your child about what may be worrying them: try role-playing through situations they may face at school
  • Plan for transitions, including getting to school and returning to school after vacations
  • Throughout the school year, encourage your child to share his or her fears by setting up a regular time to talk
  • Help your child develop healthy coping and problem-solving skills
  • Be mindful of your own behaviour—model confidence and comfort when your child is anxious
  • Focus on the positive and celebrate small accomplishments

Consider seeking more help if your child does the following:

  • ​Frequent attempts to remain at home or with a caregiver
  • Refuses to attend school on certain days (field trips)
  • Refuses to eat in public
  • Refuses to use public bathrooms
  • Worries constantly
  • Continually seeks comfort and reassurance
  • Shows extreme shyness, avoiding social situations or events
  • Raises physical complaints with no medical explanation (stomach aches, headaches, difficulty catching his or her breath)
  • Throws tantrums, cries or screams excessively
  • Begins to act in a way that is ‘out of character’, if a sudden and unexpected behavior change is observed

Learn more:
Resources for children, youth, young adults and parents:

  • Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre: A provincial resource centre that provides mental health and substance use information, resources, and peer support to children, youth and their families from across BC.
  • Breathr Mindfulness App: an app designed to introduce the concept of mindfulness, offering a variety of mindfulness practices, while also teaching them interesting facts about the brain science behind those practices.
  • MindShift: An interactive app designed to help youth learn how to relax, develop more helpful ways of thinking, and identify active steps that will help them take charge of their anxiety.
  • mindcheck.ca: An interactive website designed to help youth and young adults age 13-25 to check out how they’re feeling and quickly connect to mental health resources and support.
  • Stresslr is a free web app that provides a fun and engaging way for children ages 9-11 to learn about stress, understand how they react to it, and develop healthy strategies to cope with stress in their everyday lives. Stresslr can be used on any computer, tablet or iPhone, and will soon be available on Android devices as well!
  • AnxietyBC: Information on how anxiety can express itself and effective strategies to address it in children, youth and young adults.
  • BC FRIENDS Online Parent Program: An online resource for parents of children in kindergarten to grade 7. FRIENDS is an anxiety prevention and resiliency building curriculum available for use in BC classrooms.
  • The Crisis Line Association of BC provides 24 hours a day, seven days a week linkage to regional crisis and information lines. Call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) from anywhere in the province to be connected to the nearest available regional crisis line. Access the trained volunteers who offer emotional support, crisis and suicide assessment/intervention, and resource information.
  • The Confident Parents: Thriving Kids program, delivered through the Canadian Mental Health Association’s B.C. Division, helps parents address behavioural problems in kids aged three to 12. The free program is delivered by telephone during the day, as well as evenings and weekends, to accommodate busy work and school schedules.
  • Healthy Families BC: A provincial one-stop online resource for health and wellness information. Whether you are looking for healthy eating tips at home or dining out, programs and supports for becoming more physically active or quitting smoking, or information about healthy lifestyle initiatives where you work, live and play, HealthyFamilies BC is dedicated to helping British Columbians make healthier choices.