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Health & Parenting

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How to Deal With Back-to-School Anxiety

School's back in session. Help your child minimize the fear factor.
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD

Remember the last time you started a new job? You were probably a little stressed and anxious about how things would go. What would your boss be like? Would you get along with your coworkers? How would you handle the commute?

Your child has similar worries about a new school year -- plus, she's a kid and hasn't gone through as many of these transitions as you have. "One of our biggest fears as humans is the unknown, and starting a new school year involves a lot of unknowns," says Laura Markham, PhD. She is a clinical psychologist and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.

Markham says that with a little understanding, parents can help children take their new-classroom (and even new-school) fears and turn them into excitement.

Help your child bond with his teacher. "Kids need to feel connected with their teacher in order to focus in class, learn, and be happy going to school," says Markham. If your school offers an orientation program or back-to-school night, take your child and introduce him to the teacher. Try to get a photo of the new teacher from a school newsletter or web site, post it on the refrigerator, and "talk to the teacher" from time to time.

Learn the ropes. Switching to a new school? Ask the office if you can visit during the last weeks of summer. "Even if you can just spend 2 minutes introducing yourself, letting your child stick her head in the library, and play on the playground a little, that's big," says Markham.

Use books to start conversations. Go to the library and look for back-to-school stories -- there are many, aimed at different age levels.

Transition your schedule. All children need enough sleep. "If your child is sleep-deprived, he's more likely to feel overwhelmed, cranky, and scared," says Markham. During the last week or so before school starts, ease back into your school-year schedule.

Plan play dates. "With each new school year, kids' alliances can shift and they can find themselves suddenly struggling to find new friends," says Markham. "Try to get the class list in advance or, if you have an informal network of other parents, ask around about which teacher their child will have. Then, if you find out your child's best friend from last year isn't in her new class, start arranging play dates with someone who is."

Get more ideas to keep your family happy and healthy at the Raising Fit Kids Center.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."

Reviewed on July 15, 2013

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