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Heading Back-to-School Can Be Emotionally Difficult For Students

Recognizing Signs of Stress Can Help Parents Help Their Children

By Abbot A. Bronstein, Ph.D. and Nathan M. Szajnberg, M.D.

San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute & Society

For many students, heading back to school is much more difficult than choosing a favorite backpack, binder and new clothes. Many children exhibit anxiety about going to school that can be easily identified by parents.

The following advice can help parents to ease the summertime to school-time transition for their children as the first day of school approaches.

  • With young children, watch for increases in behaviors that indicate anxiety, such as sleep problems, bed wetting and clinging.
  • For those who fared poorly in school last year, it is not just the child who may dread the beginning of a new school year. Both parents and children have somewhat parallel running anxieties around separation, making friends and academic performance. The best way for a parent to help a child through a difficult back-to-school transition is to recognize what made last year difficult. A child’s life is divided into three sectors: home, neighborhood and school. Try to localize the problem and address the one sector that is causing the difficulty. Just talking about each area systematically can bring relief to a child.
  • Put the first day of school into perspective. Remember that while first impressions are important, both students and teachers need time to develop their relationships. Neither the child nor the teacher comes to school fresh at 8 a.m. Earlier events at home or on the freeway can do a lot to determine one’s attitude when the bell rings.

Even children with no anxiety about school will be emotionally and psychically fatigued by the added demand for concentration that a new school year brings. Most children handle the transition to a new school, classroom or teacher extremely well, and those with anxiety usually settle in after a few days.

Dr. Bronstein is a faculty member of the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute, Mt. Zion Medical Center, and University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Szajnberg is an award recipient of the National Institute of Mental Health, maintains a private child and adolescent psychiatric practice, and has served as a clinical professor at University of California, San Francisco. The San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute and Society is a nonprofit organization and was founded over 50 years ago. Psychoanalysts are experienced mental health professionals, already possessing advanced degrees (MD’s, PhD’s, MSW’s), who have undergone at least eight years of psychoanalytic training. http://www.sfpi.org/

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