10 Tips for Tackling School Anxiety

School Related Anxiety Pin

Summer has officially ended, and school is in full swing. Often times, the start of a new school year can be anxiety provoking for children of all ages and personality types. With new students, new rules, and a new teacher, the start of school can make even the most extroverted and energetic student anxious. Here are 10 helpful strategies to prepare for and cope with school-related anxiety for children of all ages and personalities:

Notes of Encouragement:

Write a short note to your child and slip it into their lunch box every morning. These can be short and sweet, serving as a quick reminder that their loved ones are thinking of them. Try to include positive phrases about the child, such as, “You are a fantastic reader!”, “I am very proud of you!”, or “You will make some great friends today!”. These uplifting phrases can keep your child’s thoughts in a positive direction! If your child does not pack a lunch, you can always slip the note in their backpack, or in a folder that they check at the end of the day.

Dress for Success:

Come to school the first few weeks sporting the most comfortable and functional clothes. As much as every parent wants their child to look like the coolest kid in school, it is important that the child feels comfortable and their outfit is functional. If a child has a favorite shirt they always like to wear – even if it’s not your favorite – let them wear it. Feeling comfortable will allow them to focus their attention on what’s important: school! Coming to school with functional clothes cannot be over emphasized! Skinny jeans during gym, jelly shoes with heels, and long-sleeves during a warmer fall are all examples of poor functionality. If you can’t do jumping jacks in skinny jeans and heels, neither can your child.

Provide a Familiar Face:

Tape a favorite picture of you and your child inside their desk, lunch box, or backpack. You can even laminate the picture for increased durability. Seeing a familiar face, a loving parent, or a favorite memory will provide some extra comfort throughout the day.

Practice Positive Phrases:

At home, practice some positive phrases the child can tell themselves when they are nervous. Just as adults practice positive self-talk in the shower, car, or bathroom mirror, this strategy can be helpful for children too. Phrases such as, “I am doing my very best!”, “I am capable of success!”, or “Just keep swimming!. Just keep swimming!” can help calm a nervous child in the moment. These short mantras can be practiced at home and used at school silently.

Trial-run Through Transitions:

Knowing the layout of the school can ease a child’s anxiety as well. Children are expected to rotate classrooms and navigate campuses even in Kindergarten now! If a child is nervous about finding their way around or being late, a good strategy is to do a trial run of their schedule. After school, once the commotion has died down, you and your child can walk through each transition throughout their day so they are confident they will know where to go, and how to get there.

Ignore the Small Stuff:

Try to keep from nit-picking small behaviors during the first few weeks. It is very common for kids of all ages to chew on shirt collars, sleeves, nails, fingertips, erasers, and pencils, as well as play with their hair or not eat all their lunch. These behaviors are often a way to reduce anxiety and can also provide some sensory relief. Focus your energy on increasing their confidence, and once the anxiety has reduced, then you can start implementing some replacement behavioral strategies for such behaviors. In fact, many children actually stop exhibiting these behaviors on their own after the first month or two of school.

Practice Positive Self-talk:

Start each morning off by listing 3 positive things about your child. This is a great activity to do during breakfast or the car ride to school. Ask the child to list the 3 things themselves, but feel free to jump in and help if they are struggling. Practicing this activity every morning will help your child develop a positive self-esteem and create a positive narrative about themselves that focuses on their strengths and accomplishments.

Ease into Academics:

Focus less on grades during the first few weeks of school, and more on how well their day went, what they did well at, and things they are proud of. Taking the focus off of grades will relieve some pressure until the child is more settled in. Once the child is feeling confident or less anxious, then the focus can be redirected back to academics.

Keep a Full Belly:

Start each morning out with a good breakfast. Schoolwork, new environments, and anxiety can be mentally and physically tasking. By lunchtime, most kids are starving during the first few weeks of school. Having a hearty and nutritious breakfast can ensure a child has the mental and physical energy to do their best throughout their day.

Provide Reassurance:

Remind your child that it is okay to be nervous. Reassure them that many other kids in their class are probably feeling the same way. Try to think of a time when you were nervous (at work, during a presentation, or back when you were in school), and talk to your child to show them that you understand what they are feeling. Children often think of their parents as superheroes, so when they realize that Super-Dad and Wonder-Mom also get nervous they will feel relieved. They will feel even more assured when they hear how their parents overcame the experience and succeeded.



Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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What Is Loss?

What is Loss?

Death.  It’s one of the most taboo subjects.  If you ever want to end a conversation, start talking about death.  Death and the sadness that occurs afterward, are often met by friends and loved ones with attempts to return to happiness as fast as possible, instead of attempting to understand how to cope with the experience.  Avoidance is even found in graduate-level counseling programs, where grief/loss is completely removed from the required coursework.  Despite all of our avoiding, death and loss surround us and occur more often than we realize.

Loss can be camouflaged, but it lies in almost everything we experience.  Loss of identity is a common hidden loss.  This can occur for many reasons.  For example, after a divorce, many people experience a loss of identity as they transition from a married couple to a single individual.  It grows increasingly difficult the longer a marriage lasts, since the longer someone has held an identity, the harder it becomes to transition to a new identity.  Loss of identity can also be seen in children during divorces.  For some children, the change that occurs may mean taking a new role in the family, transitioning from son to “man of the household.”  This switch can cause stress, conflict, and confusion for the family member who is forced to take on a role they are not normally accustomed to.  Losing a job can also cause identity loss, particularly with men.  Society has labeled men with the social role of “provider.”  Working and providing for a family is an identity for many men, and when that is taken away via job loss, men sometimes have a difficult time adjusting to a new role as dependent.

Another common but hidden loss is the relocation of a home.  This loss is probably more common today as many families are forced to move because of the inability to afford their current bills, job relocation, or foreclosure due to a poor economy.  For many families, the home symbolizes much more than just a roof and four walls; it can hold history, memories, and an ongoing restructuring project and result of hard work.  Losing a home or being forced to move can be devastating and leave one with feelings of intense loss.   Our homes are also our place of comfort.  Do you remember your first move? How long did it take you to make your new place feel like “home”? This feeling of comfort is often grieved as well when losing a home.

Loss of ability is another example that can occur for people with chronic or terminal medical conditions.  For instance, some diseases like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which results in loss of muscle control, slowly strips away many abilities that a person once had.  Just one month after diagnosis, an individual may lose their ability to sleep comfortably.  Months later, they may lose their ability to walk without assistance.  Next goes the ability to walk at all, being bound to a wheel chair.  Loss of vision, the ability to control bowel movements, and the strength to feed oneself can also occur.  Each of these different stages in the disease results in a loss, and those individuals experience grief during each individual stage.  [I would like to note that this is a generalized example based on a severe course of MS.  Not all individuals with MS will experience these symptoms, and not all courses of MS follow the same path.]  Sudden loss due to either disease or tragic event is also a loss that requires grieving.

As one can see, there are many types of losses that are not the actual loss of a human life.  People experience these losses many times over, but often confuse the experience with other emotions.  Are we really mad that the staircase in the new house is placed in such an awkward place, or are we just grieving the loss of what was once our place of comfort and security? Are you really upset that your partner took on more hours at work, leaving no time to help you around the house? Or are you having a hard time transitioning out of the role in the family as “provider”?

One may answer, “What does it matter? Regardless of how I got there, I’m left feeling mad!” One cannot begin grieving something they have not yet acknowledged has been lost.  Appropriately defining these moments as a loss ― whether it be a divorce, losing a job or a house, gaining a new identity as a single, taking on a new role in the family, or declining physical abilities due to a chronic medical condition ― will help one gain a clearer understanding of what they are experiencing, and help one to better cope with the feelings they are having.

It is also important to recognize the actual loss to allow for the time and space to grieve.  Although it may not be seen by others as an “actual” loss, what was experienced is, in fact, a loss and can leave one with the exact same feelings.  Taking care of oneself during this difficult time is not only important, but essential.

Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist

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© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.