Back-to-School Anxiety Tip: Draw Your Worry

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.

To read all the tips, click here.


You can help a child manage their anxious thoughts through a process called “externalization”. This is a process that is common in the therapy world, where a person takes an emotion or internal experience and makes it external, by separating themselves from the experience. For example, instead of someone saying, “I am a failure”, they might say, “The feeling of failure is showing up for me right now.” This makes it so that I am not the problem, the problem is the problem.

For kids with anxiety or worries, you can take that emotion and separate it from the child by simply calling it “the worry” or “the anxiety”. Think about the difference between these two sentences:

“You are anxious about going back to school.”

“The worry is visiting you right now.”

To a child, the idea of something outside of the child who shows up at certain times feels much more manageable than the idea that there is something in them that is the problem.

Once you’ve established that “the worry” lives outside of the child, you can have fun with it. Have the child give their worry a name. It can be silly, like “Worried Wanda!” or more serious, like “the worry” or just something completely random, like “Charlie.”

Then have the child draw the worry. It might look like another child, it might look like a scary monster. Just allow them to express the worry how they picture it in their minds.

For some children who work best with humor, it can be helpful to have them draw it a second time. This time make it even more exaggerated!

The child can pin this picture up on a wall or tuck it away somewhere safe, and it can be taken out when the worry comes to visit. You can say, “Oh it sounds like the worry is here. Should we get the drawing out?”

Externalizing helps children see the worry or anxiety as something outside of their own identity, something that does not define them, but instead something that they can battle against to help manage. This simple practice can help them begin to see anxiety in a new way.

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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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