Many of us feel a sense of sadness when summer is about to end, as relaxing vacations give way to harried “back to school” activities. Whether your child is starting his or her first day of kindergarten or you are packing up the car for college, transitioning back to school can be somewhat bittersweet. Exciting, yet somewhat anxiety-provoking for children and parents alike. Preparing for this transition in advance can help ease this back to school anxiety. Dr. Mark Novitsky, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, has a number of recommendations for parents to help ensure a successful transition:

To mitigate back to school anxiety for younger children, it is helpful to:

  • Readjust school year bedtime routines prior to school year starts. Sleep is vital.
  • Set up playdates with classmates
  • Visit the school in advance (particularly if this is a new school). If possible meet with the teacher.
  • Make school lunches together the night before.
  • Drop off and pick up your child from their bus stop or school building.

To lessen back to school anxiety for older children, it is helpful to:

  • Put together a schedule for homework and after-school activities in advance.
  • Reinforce past successes – challenging experiences that your child was successfully able to master.
  • Encourage him or her to get involved in extracurricular activities and promote peer socialization opportunities.
  • Ensure that sleep patterns are stable, and that your child gets enough sleep – with particular emphasis on setting limits on cell phones/iPads/computers so that your child is not up all night texting friends.

If your child is going off to college for the first time, you may experience a wistful sadness and loneliness known as the “Empty Nest Syndrome”. This is normal and understandable, as a major part of one’s identity until this point had been providing nurture and supervision as a parent. This adjustment period can be particularly difficulty for families with one child. Those with other children at home can redirect attention to them. Moreover, a healthy way for parents to navigate this trying time is to both stay connected with their child, and see this a new opportunity for change. Focus on rediscovering one another as a couple, and revisit past pleasures that you enjoyed prior to having children, as these steps may help renew loving bonds from that phase of life.

Tips for handling the Empty Nest Syndrome:

  • Stay connected. It may be helpful to establish a set time that you routinely talk with your child. Skype or FaceTime can help you both see and hear that they are doing well (and count on times where they will refuse a video chat, as they or their room will likely be disheveled). If your child is attending a local college, you may have the opportunity to meet up for a weekly family dinner. For those further away, it can be helpful to plan a trip to go and visit. Phone calls and texts (especially family threads) can help keep the family connected. Also, plan to send an occasional “care package” as this will remind your son or daughter of home.
  • Socialize. If your child was involved with sports, music, or other extra-curricular activities that led to socialization with other parents, it may also be difficult to lose these connections. Attend games to stay connected. Many of the other parents may be experiencing a similar loss, so it can be helpful to share feelings with them.
  • Reprioritize. Renew your focus on important aspects of your life that you may have put on the back-burner, such as health and hobbies. For married parents, you now have an opportunity to reconnect with your partner.
  • Change your perspective. When you are feeling sad about not having the companionship of your child, remind yourself that he or she is away from home because of your success as a parent. Remind yourself of how you, yourself successfully transitioned in the same way.
  • Learn how to let go.

If your child is feeling debilitating back to school anxiety, or if you or your partner are feeling depressed despite these steps, reach out for professional help.

Related information

Download a sample from Dr. Kehr’s book
Learn about Dr. Kehr’s Psychiatry Practice, Potomac Psychiatry


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