Back-to-school anxiety is very common, and this year, we expect that many children will be feeling anxious about returning to school after such an unusual school year. To support caregivers and parents, we’ve put together a few simple tips that can help manage anxiety in children going back to school.

When kids are able to identify when and where they feel worry in their body, they are better able to intervene before the worry gets too big. One easy way to do this is to make a worry chart. A worry chart can be a number scale from 1 to 10, a thermometer, or anything else that tracks change. Together with the child, identify markers along the chart that indicate level or worry. Ask the child what a 10 feels like (the most worried they have ever felt). What does it feel like to be somewhat worried? What does it feel like to not really be worried at all? Mark those on the chart. For example, a worry chart might look like this:


10: My stomach hurts, I don’t want to get out of bed, I cry a lot


8: I pick at my fingernails; sometimes they bleed. It is hard to fall asleep.



5: I feel flutters in my stomach, I feel sad when I think about it.


3: I bite my fingernails.


1: I am excited and happy, or I feel calm. I laugh a lot and have fun.


A child will likely not be able to go from a 10 down to a 1 or 2, even with very constructive conversations and supportive adults. It takes time to work through anxiety. However, putting the chart in writing can help the child understand the various stops along their personal anxiety path. Parents can then use this to support a child by saying things like, “I see you’re biting your nails. I remember you saying that is something you do when you feel anxious. What can we do to work through the anxiety so it doesn’t get any bigger?” Or, “Earlier today you were crying and you said your stomach hurt. Those are things you marked as a 10 on your worry chart. It seems to me like you’re very worried. I wonder what we could do to get the worry down to a 9 or an 8?”

Sometimes it helps kids to identify different strategies for ranges on the scale. For example, 1-3 might be managed by pinwheel breathing, 4-6 using three toolbox strategies, 7+ can be letting an adult know they need support. Parents can sit with the child and offer a hug or take deep breaths together to help them manage the worry. For kids who can do this step of assigning strategies to various levels of worry, it can help them learn to advocate for their needs. It’s important to identify this at a time when the child feels calm, and then recall it during a time of anxiety.

Not only does this strategy support the child in their ability to work through anxiety, but it also sets them up on a lifelong path to success. After all, think how helpful would it be if every adult had the ability to identify their emotions and intervene before they became overwhelming! Giving kids this support now will help them in the moment and in the long run.

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Related Resources


Five Things to Consider When Picking a Preschool for Your Child


Partnering with Parents in the New Age of School


Reminding Students (And Ourselves!) How To Do School Again


Three Tricks To Master Students’ Names In A Virtual Back-To-School World

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