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Five Subtle Signs of Back-to-School Stress in Children

Getting ready for returning to school is typically exciting and stressful for many families, but this year with COVID-19 coming back into the news, it’s especially concerning for parents. The safety of their children is first and foremost in their minds rather than the signs that their children are also feeling stressed about the upcoming school year.

If your child is having uncontrolled meltdowns or temper tantrums, consider that their outburst may be misplaced stress about the upcoming school year. Usually when they act the worst, they need you to love and comfort them the most. If you’re concerned that your child may be dealing with anxiety and stress, here are five signs to be aware of.

1. Your child’s typical preferences have changed. Children develop schedules, foods, and routines just as adults do. If they no longer like getting in the pool when they use to love it or are not sleeping well, take note. Trying to establish a routine that will be similar to a typical school day a week or two before beginning school will help make your child feel more secure.

2. Your child is crankier, having more meltdowns, or fighting more. When your child is stressed, they feel more threatened and look for an escape. That usually means acting out with anger or throwing a tantrum or fighting. Talk to your child about what stress looks and feels like and explain ways they can express their feelings without acting out. This will help them feel more in control.

3. Your child is complaining about physical symptoms more. Any mention of a physical symptom alerts most parents with a new variant of COVID-19 looming, but stress illness looks different than symptoms of a virus. If your child feels bad when talking about school, then it is more likely school stress. When a child talks about a headache or stomachache, that is their way of telling you they are anxious. Reassuring them and encouraging them about how fun it will be to go back to school usually helps them feel better and less stressed. When we involve children with conversations about what they like about school, it helps them refocus on the future and minimizes fear of the unknow.

4. They begin avoiding old friends. Getting together with old friends use to be something kids looked forward to, but since the pandemic many families were limiting contact with others. A sign of stress or anxiety is when your child is not excited to see their friends. They may feel awkward or worry about whether their old friends will still like them. Talking about this with your child and allowing them to express their fear often helps the child feel supported and better. Plus, parents can usually offer an alternative and schedule a play date prior to school to help their child see old friends.

5. They repeat questions to gain your reassurance. Children ask questions all day, but when they continually ask questions about a specific topic requiring reassurance from you it’s a subtle sign of stress. After you give your child a reassuring answer, get curious and explain that you’ve noticed they’ve asked that question several times. Ask them what part of the question they are concerned with. Kids don’t know how to verbalize their worries, so parents can help them by discussing the behavior.

Every school year has it’s challenges and children went through many last year. When parents talk about the stress they may be feeling and ask for suggestions of how the family can help, everyone feels safer and secure. The greatest mentor your child will ever have is you. Keep it simple and honest by telling them you’re a little stressed, too, and then setting a good example of a healthy behavior you do to minimize your stress.


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