Back To School Anxiety

Teen Anxiety Treatment Helping Youth with Worries about School

Worries Your Teen May Have

Change is challenging for most of us. Youth face some important changes in their schooling journey. For a teen who struggles with anxiety, change is a major trigger for worries and other physiological behaviours. Teens may come for counselling during transitions from elementary to junior high and junior high to high school. Troublesome thoughts may also show up in transition from one grade to another. This post unveils for parents some of the most common worries teens in transition bring up in therapy. Then learn some practical mental heath strategies you as a parent can immediatly start using to support your child to better cope and access more peace.

Troublesome Thoughts Parents May Not Know About

  • Who are the kids in the new classes and will they be able to make a place to belong and make friends
  • Will I get lost in the new building or campus in the first few days or weeks to find my classes/activities? 
  • Will I get along with my new teachers?
  • How will I manage the new routines and rules? What if I forget a routine and I get in trouble for not doing things as expected?
  • How will I make friends when there are so many students? How will I know who is safe to approach and talk to? What if I try to talk to someone or a new group and they ignore me?
  • Who will I sit beside on the first day of classes?
  • What will the others think of me as the new kid in school? Will I make a good impression?
  • What if the teachers at the new school give a lot of homework and I am not able to keep up? What are the consequences that will happen to me if I start falling behind on assignments and I am not able to catch up? Will the teachers punish me? Will my parents punish me?
  • What if I get targeted by bullies at this new school? What if bullies make my life miserable all year long? How will I be able to get help or get out of that situation?
  • Will the school/teachers be accepting and accommodating to my special needs (eg. ADHD)? I know they may talk about it and write it out in documents, but what if in everyday classes no accommodations are activated? What if I fail because the support I need is not there?
  • What if the bad experiences I had at my last school continue, or get worse, at this school? What  if my hopes of positive change are shattered?

Parent Coaching – Steps To Help Anxious Child/Teen

What I do NOT want you to do from this list of worries is for them to incite you into higher anxiety about your child. Instead I recommend the following parenting tips.

Be Mindful of Potential School Anxiety

This is a very busy time of year for us as parents. This summer we may have had vacation plans to make and execute, found activities and programs in which to enroll our children as we fought off the summer monster “boredom”, and now later in the summer we are doing back to school shopping. It is very easy to be distracted by the doing of responsible things that we miss the feelings of the kids in the season.

Check-In with Curiosity

Worrying is a process that centers in the mind. It has been my experience as a child-youth therapist that some tweens and teens are very good at not displaying outwardly their anxiety to others. I have observed in building rapport in my counselling role  that for some youth an indirect checkin is best, conversely,  others  are eagerly waiting for someone to ask them directly so that they sense they have permission to talk about it

Indirect Check-Ins

“What are your friends’ feelings and thoughts related to starting a new school year or going to a new school? How do you think this year may go for you?

Direct Ways to Check in

Change and going into something new and unknown can bring up some nervousness and worries. Do you have any worries about the changes you may face as you go to a new school or start a new school year?

Or  even more direct:Use one of the worries mentioned about and ask specifically about it.

 “Do you worry about what your teachers will be like this year and if you will get along with them?”

“Do you worry about not finding a way into the friendship groups in your new class/grade?” 

Help Child Calm Using Breathing Techniques

The first breathing technique I might teach is scented square breathing.

Using a pleasant scented candle or aromatherapy roll-on . The teen breathes in for 4, holds for 4, exhale for 4, inhale for 4, hold for 4, and exhale for 4.  I have adapted this approach with adolescents and removed the hold after the exhale as many just learning deep breathing techniques find the empty lungs hold to be very difficult.

The Center for Adolescent Studies published a simple breathing technique that is simple to learn and do. They referred to it as “The Shoulder Shrug

Shoulder Shrugs

“Roll your shoulders back and down so they are away from your ears. Breathe deeply in through your nose as you raise your shoulders up by your ears.

Breath out and lower your shoulders.

Repeat movement 3-5 times and feel the tension melt away.”

Center for Adolescent Studies

A CBT Strategy That Reduce Youth Worries

“Flip That Thought” – Re Catastrophising

Often adolescents, and adults too, can get caught in the thinking trap of catastrophizing – that is thinking about the worse case scenario as if it is destined to be true. A simple way I teach youth to challenge this thinking is to flip the thought.

What if a bad/worse thing happened? What could you do to cope with it?


What if good/great things happened? What would you do with your success?

Worse Case Scenario ;

 What if no one talked to you in the first week of school? How could you plan to deal with time alone so that you feel more okay about it?

Flipped That Thought To

Best Case Scenario:

What if a number of people talked to you and seemed genuinely interested in getting to know you? What if a few of these new acquaintances turn out to be your good friends?

It is not impossible for disappointing and hurtful things to happen, but it is equally as likely that good things can happen to us as well. We can choose to focus on thinking about positive anticipation to lower our anxieties.

Published by Help For Families Canada

Help for Families Canada is a counselling and consulting organisation serving Edmonton, locally, and families, globally. We specialise in offering child and family therapy for kids and parents via play therapy interventions.

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