Back-to-School Anxiety? Four Things to Know

After a year of shifts and adjustments, some kids may be feeling anxiety or worry about going back to school. These four things may be helpful to keep in mind.

By Alina Ramirez-Ponce, Ph.D., LCSW-S, Clinical Director | Aug 05, 2021
Back To School Anxiety1

By Alina Ramirez-Ponce, Ph.D., LCSW-S, Clinical Director


After a year of shifts and adjustments to schooling, some kids may be feeling anxiety or worry about going back to school. Changes in routines can cause some kids to worry and can cause anxiety to bubble up. The following four things may be helpful to keep in mind as you guide your child to shift back into a new school year.


1. Anxiety is the body’s natural alarm system.

Anxiety is a result of the brain and body alerting us to danger. Our body’s natural alarm system can be a good thing! It is what prompts us into action and helps protect us from harm. However, it can also have a negative impact if it feels unmanageable. Thinking of anxiety as a body’s natural response is helpful, as it takes us away from thinking things like, “I wish my child wasn’t so anxious” or, “There’s nothing to be anxious about” to, “I can see their body is registering this as a threat.” In doing so, we can respond to the child’s anxiety in a constructive way by acknowledging the fear and working through it with them together.

2. Anxiety is normal and to be expected.

It is logical that there may be mixed feelings on the part of both the child and the parent/caregiver as a result of shifts related to the pandemic. Kids may be worried about getting COVID. They may have anxiety about being around other people again. They may have gotten used to being home. They may have separation anxiety. They may have forgotten some aspects of school. Parents can support children by trying to figure out the source(s) of anxiety and addressing those specifically. It is very important that parents validate their child’s concerns by saying something like, “Yes, it makes sense that you’re thinking about that. Let’s talk about it.”

3. Avoidance is a common anxiety response.

Many people with anxiety – children and adults – will try to avoid feeling bad, so they often try to avoid the thing that is making them feel anxious. Sometimes that is helpful, for example if a child is afraid of jumping off the diving board, he may listen to his body and decide he is not ready. However, avoidance can lead to bigger problems if it becomes a pattern. It’s important to know that this is a common response to anxiety in order to catch it in action and respond appropriately. Parents can support children who may be slipping into avoidant behavior with reassurance and empathy, by saying things like, “I know it is hard and it would feel easier and better to stay home. However, that is not an option. So let’s talk about some solutions.”

4. How a parent/adult manages their own anxiety matters.

As a parent, it is important to be mindful of your own initial responses to anxiety-provoking situations and to know how you manage anxiety. How a parent responds can contribute either to feelings of self-advocacy and empowerment or to feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy. Many adults are also concerned about their children going back to school during this year of much uncertainty. However, it is important to not pass our anxiety on to our children. As adults, we should process our anxiety with other adults (or professionals as needed). With our children, we should remain supportive and demonstrate our belief in their ability to manage their worry. This can look like, “I know what it feels like to be worried about going back to school. I get worried about things, too. But I also know that you are strong and can manage your worry. What are some ways that you’ve managed your worries in the past?”


The role of the adult in supporting a child’s anxiety is crucial. When we shift our thinking to understand that their brain and body are responding to changes by alerting them of a threat, when we are aware of common responses to anxiety, and when we are mindful of our own responses, we can support children as they transition back to school this year.

For more tips on managing anxiety and supporting children going back to school this year, click here.