Mentally preparing yourself for the transition back to school with these five tips is just as important as getting the right school supplies:

Be aware of school-related stress
It is important to be aware of children’s concerns and know how to respond. Parents and caregivers play a key role in helping children understand, manage, and overcome these concerns. First, make sure your child knows that it’s normal to be nervous.

Ask why your child is scared or nervous – it’s important to listen and show empathy. Younger children often worry about their friends: will they know someone? Will they have someone to play with or have lunch? To reduce anxiety, consider helping your child get to know classmates with a date at the park or a group shopping trip for school supplies before school starts.

Also, be aware of your emotions: Parental stress can be detected by your child, so stay calm, notice that you don’t express your nervousness, and show confidence.

Troubleshoot and plan
Children often seek reassurance that nothing bad will happen. Encourage your child to think of solutions to possible problems. When children are part of the solution, they feel empowered. Role-playing can also boost your child’s confidence.

Fear of school violence is also a cause for anxiety. Manage this concern with open conversations and an action plan, such as reaching out to each other in the event of an emergency on campus. Reassure your child that school violence is not a frequent occurrence.

Highlight the positives
Talking about positive school experiences from the past can illuminate your child’s attitude. Discuss your child’s strengths and talents. Go shopping for school supplies and let your child select a few items to buy. When children feel included, they are more likely to embrace change, such as the start of the new school year.

Get into a routine
A regular routine can relieve anxiety and make the transition smoother. Start by going to bed early and getting up at the time you need to go to school.

If it’s a new school, take a tour. Visit the classroom and point out the locations of key facilities such as the restrooms, cafeteria, and administrative offices. Let the teacher or school counselor know if your child is very anxious. Many schools have systems, such as assigned peers, to help your child’s transition.

Have a plan for the first week: praise, reassure, and support resilience
Plan everything together the night before school starts to reduce the nervousness of the first day.

Younger children can feel comforted by bringing a special item to school that reminds them of home. For older children, a reassuring note in a lunchbox can help them feel better. This is also a time to teach mindfulness, that is, being more aware of the present moment. Mindfulness can calm a busy mind and relieve anxiety.

After the first day or week, praise and reward your child for being resilient and courageous during a meaningful transition. This is an opportunity to learn and practice resilience, making children more adaptable to change and better equipped to deal with adverse experiences. As a reward, you can offer treats, such as special pencils or school supplies, a ride, or a favorite meal.

If the anxiety continues
Don’t ignore behaviors that persist well into the school year. Behaviors to watch for may include sudden poor sleep quality or eating habits, refusal to go to school, or emotional outbursts.

By talking to your child’s teacher or school counselors, or discussing your concerns with your pediatrician, you can better judge whether your child needs additional help and support.

About Karen Stewart, MD
Dr. Karen Stewart is an adult, child, and teen psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente in Georgia who understands that the new school year is exciting but also stressful, especially for those transitioning to new schools. That’s why she recommends these tips to reduce back-to-school anxiety.