Tips to Help Kids with Back-to-School Anxiety | News | Loyola Medicine
Friday, August 18, 2017

Loyola Primary Care Physician Offers Tips to Help Children Suffering from Back-to-School Anxiety

child getting on school bus

MAYWOOD, IL – Whether it's beginning preschool or senior year of high school, back-to-school season can cause anxiety and stress among children and young adults. 

Primary care physician Anita Damodaran, MD, who sees patients at the Loyola Center for Health at Chicago, says these are some signs to look for when children are feeling stressed and aren't expressing it.

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Irritability or tantrums
  • Refusing to go to school
  • In young adults, repeated absences or negative self-talk

"It's important that parents recognize and validate children's feelings of stress," Dr. Damodaran said. "By doing so, they are able to help their children find solutions and make for a better school year."

Dr. Damodaran said regardless of the age of the child, there are things parents can do to help ease the back-to-school process.

Get prepared: Start the back-to-school routine 2-3 weeks before school begins. Start going to bed and waking up earlier. Try to eat on a regular schedule that mimics the school day. Practice the usual morning routine, including laying out clothes the night before and practicing the travel route.

Walk through school before the first day: This is especially important for children starting a new school, but even for returning students it's reassuring to know how to find your classroom and locker.

For preschool and kindergarten, have a play date with children in your child's new school prior to the first day of school. For young adults, find where the neighborhood kids go after school to safely spend time, such as a community recreation center or a park.

"For children of any age, having a familiar and friendly face those first days can help ease the process," Dr. Damodaran said.

"Before the school year begins, discuss short- and long-term goals for the year," Dr. Damodaran said. "A visual schedule, such as a whiteboard, can help the family stay on the same page. It's also important to discuss expectations about homework time."

Once school begins, Dr. Damodaran said families should make sure to schedule time for fun and relaxation, even if it's only 15-20 minutes. Ideally, she said, it should be technology free.

Sometimes back-to-school anxiety can be a sign of something more serious. Dr. Damodaran said parents should reach out to their primary care physician, a psychologist or a school guidance counselor if they have concerns.

Parents should watch out for:

  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Decreased energy or concentration
  • Decreased interest in things the child used to enjoy
  • Outbursts of anger or sadness
  • Statements of self harm

Adolescence (ages 10-19) is the most common time for depression to be diagnosed. In young children, depression can often mimic the symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

"Parents should never hesitate to reach out if they have concerns about their child's mental health," Dr. Damodaran said. "If needed, there are many resources available."

About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 92 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 129,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.