This article was originally published in July 2021 and last updated in December 2023.
If your child is dreading going back to school this fall, or is having a series of "off" days about going to school at all, how can you help?
Connecticut Children’s pediatric psychologist Bradley Jerson, PhD, shares tips.
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Acknowledge your child’s feelings about going back to school.
They might struggle with social anxiety, or have experienced bullying at school. They might learn well on their own, but have classroom-specific learning challenges.
Ask your child what’s on their mind. Let them know that you hear them, and you are here to support them.
But don’t avoid what’s scary.
Learning at home may have been easier in some ways for your child, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was better. Often, removing children from anxiety-provoking situations can unintentionally make it harder for them to work on skill development.
As you help your child prepare for school, remind them that embracing challenges can make them even stronger.
> Related: Mental Health Resources for Kids and Teens
Reach out to your child’s school for help.
If you’re aware that some things will be difficult for your child, talk with their school now about a plan to support them. Simply having a friendly point of contact in the building can be very reassuring to a child.
Try creating opportunities for your child to experience a little bit of re-entry distress gradually, so they can see that they’re capable of riding out those feelings. Depending on their age and what they’re struggling with, this could mean taking them into the grocery store with you, arranging playdates, or planning morning activities that force an earlier wakeup time. Begin with small goals (“Come inside the store with me for five minutes”) and increase them slowly.
Start forming school-year habits now.
If it's the start of a new year, both you and your child will need help getting back into a school routine. Ask your child’s school for any details to keep in mind, from drop-off rules to lunch options. Have your child write down everything they can work into their summertime routine now, like laying out tomorrow’s clothes before bed, setting an alarm, eating breakfast at a certain time, and so on. Then practice.
When school starts, set aside time to recharge.
The first weeks back at school may be difficult for your child – and for you. Have compassion. Don’t overschedule or overcommit your family. Make sure your child has time and space to wind down after each school day.
And go easy on academic pressure.
Make sure your child knows you care more about their socioemotional wellness than their report card.
Our goals are to help youth feel confident and empowered in their abilities to learn and function – and to maximize their resilience. Grades are important, but their ability to simply return to and thrive in the classroom, connect with their teachers and peers, and get through each day is even more important.
Finally, as always: Model calm.
This is more important than you may realize. If you’re concerned about your child’s re-entry into school, your child will likely absorb it. So take steps to get the support and information you need.
Share what you’re going through with a loved one, counselor or another supportive figure. Keep an open dialogue with your child's school about any concerns. Get answers to common questions from Connecticut Children’s pediatric experts.
And talk to your child’s pediatrician about any concerns you have about your child’s health, whether physical or mental. We’re here to help.