Spotting and easing back-to-school anxiety

Dr. Connie Coniglio
Dr. Connie Coniglio


WITH all BC students now back in class, BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services is sharing tips on what to watch for and how to help when it comes to anxiety and stress.

“While some children embrace back-to-school excitement, others may need a more calming environment to get them back into the school year routine,” said Dr. Connie Coniglio, BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services. “A new school year can be the start of many new beginnings, but if your child finds this time overwhelming, they may be experiencing anxiety or stress.”

Anxiety—feeling worried, nervous, fearful—is normal from time to time in adults and children. It can even protect us by alerting us to danger and help keep us from harm. Anxiety is a problem if your child seems to be anxious often when other children of the same age are typically not; it negatively affects their functioning and/or your family life; and if it doesn’t get better over time.


Signs to watch for:

* Attempts to remain at home or with caregiver

* Refusal to attend school on certain days (field trips)

* Refusal to eat in public

* Refusal to use public bathrooms

* Constant worrying

* Seeking comfort / reassurance

* Extreme shyness, avoiding social situations or events

* Physical complaints with no medical explanation (stomach aches, headaches, difficulty catching breath)

* Tantrums, crying, screaming


Tips for parents and caregivers:

* Plan for transitions – getting to school, returning to school after breaks

* Provide regular routines – morning, school, homework, bedtime

* Provide clear expectations, limits and consequences

* Hold realistic expectations that are right for child’s age

* Help your child identify his or her feelings – nervous, intimidated, shy

* Pay attention to your child’s feelings

* Ask your child if they have ideas or solutions for a particular concern

* Show yourself identifying your own feelings, problem solving and being brave

* Remain calm when your child is anxious

* Praise and reward even their small accomplishments


 Resources that support positive mental health and well-being:

* Stop wondering, Start Knowing: A new video resource developed in partnership with Fraser Health, for educators and students to better understand and be more aware of mental health. The resource will help students recognize the early signs of mental health challenges, reflect and share ideas about mental health, help decrease the stigma around mental health, and learn about resources available for support. This resource is available at mind check.

* 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. Available free to download from the iTunes app store or Google Play.

* 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. Support includes education, self-care tools, website links, and assistance in connecting to local professional resources.

* Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre: Information and resources on mental health and substance use for children, youth and families, or call 604-875-2084 or toll-free1-800-665-1822 to speak to a parent or youth support person with experience with mental health challenges.

* AnxietyBC : Information on how anxiety can express itself and effective strategies to begin to address anxiety. AnxietyBC also has a site specifically for youth and young adults:


BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services (BCMHSUS), an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), provides specialized provincial mental health services to British Columbians.