Handling Back to School Stress

by Anita Naik

Back to school is always a stressful time for students, whether they are transitioning to secondary school, entering a new key stage of learning or starting Year 10 or Year 12. This year is likely to add to the stress with new restrictions on movement around schools, blended learning, different start times and changes to the examination curriculum.

While anxiety levels among secondary school pupils have dropped during the pandemic (thirteen to 14-year-olds were less anxious during lockdown than they had been last October, according to the University of Bristol anxiety and stress levels look to rise again as your child heads back to school. Here's how to help.

Make sure they are informed

Uncertainty is a key factor in anxiety and back to school. Much of this is fuelled by student speculation, around the changes that are being bought into play. What helps here is to make sure you and your children are informed about what's happening and why.

Ensure students know:

Their new school hours.

How their timetable will work to limit COVID.

What this means on a day-to-day basis in terms of breaks and moving around the school.

How this will affect their learning time.

How this will affect their exams spec and lesson work.

The measures they will have to follow around hand-washing, masks, movement and practical lessons.

How the year bubbles work - year groups of up to 240 students kept apart within a school, with a separate time for starting and finishing.

Talk to them

One way to help stressed children with their back to school feelings - is to talk to them about your feelings about returning to work and ask them how they feel. They may say fine or okay but listen for the throwaway comments for signs of anxiety (if any). Better still model coping strategies when you are feeling stressed. Regular exercise, a good sleeping pattern, breathing techniques and apps like Headspace all show children how to manage their feelings.

Find new ways to support their learning

With class bubbles, online learning and blended learning (a hybrid of online learning, and face-to-face tutorials, mixed with some small group sessions that conform to the social distancing requirement), you may find that your child struggles to cope with this year. A tutor can help with face-to-face and online support for areas they are struggling with or want to improve on. Study pods and peer to peer studying is also great for motivation, and students who wish to move away from solo home learning.

Look for signs of not coping

Stressed and anxious students don't always react in the way you might assume. Behaviour can suddenly get challenging, and emotions can become heightened or dulled. If your child starts to display, any of the following seek help from your GP.

1. Emotional Changes. When a student is experiencing anxiety, it is common for them to always feel on edge and uneasy. This means they are more likely to cry, get angry and overreact (beyond their usual behaviour).

2. Social Changes. Look for not wanting to spend time with friends, not wanting to talk, or get out of bed or to eat or over-eating.

3. Physical Changes. They look tired, and drawn, or seem lethargic and unhappy.

4. Sleep Changes. Sleeps too much (beyond usual behaviour), or can't sleep or wakes up during the night.

5. Academic Changes. Their scores go down, and they aren't concentrating in class.

For more help and advice on returning to school go to MentalHealth.org

And see our blogs on Catching Up in the New Academic Year, Blended Learning and Top Ways To help Students Reduce Anxiety and Stress.