Back-to-School Anxiety: Supporting Your Child’s Transition

Back-to-School Anxiety: Supporting Your Child’s Transition

Is your child struggling with the transition back to school? Nearly a month into the new school year, we have been hearing from many of you that some children and young people are starting to face challenges with returning to school, despite initially positive starts. Perhaps it’s a sudden reluctance to attend school, difficulty sleeping, complaints of physical discomfort, increased outbursts at home, a decrease in enthusiasm for homework, or a general shift in mood that’s hard to pinpoint.

If this sounds familiar, please know that you are not alone. The return to school can be a challenging journey for children, filled with various emotional and academic obstacles. While some children and young people adjust effortlessly, others may find it more challenging. They may need additional time and support to settle into the rhythm of school life, especially after an extended break.

Understanding Back-to-School Anxiety

Back-to-school anxiety refers to the feelings of worry, nervousness, or unease that children or young people might experience when they are about to return to school after a prolonged break. But what is causing these difficulties?

The reasons can vary widely, as each child is unique and may face distinct challenges. Here are some common factors contributing to the struggle with the return to school:

Fear of the Unknown: At the beginning of a school year, it is perfectly natural for students to feel a certain degree of apprehension. Fear of the unknown, such as not knowing who their new teachers will be, who they’ll sit next to in class, whether they’ll fit into the new environment, or if they’ll be able to keep up with new homework, can manifest in various forms, from mild nervousness to worry. It’s essential, however, to remember and remind your child that these feelings are normal and temporary.

Academic Expectations: The academic demands at a new grade or school level can be significantly different from the previous one. This adjustment can be challenging, particularly if your child is encountering new subjects or a more demanding workload.

Social Dynamics: Friendships and peer relationships play a vital role in a child’s life. Changes in social dynamics, such as shifting friend groups or conflicts with peers, can impact a child’s emotional well-being and attitude towards school.

Routine Changes: The shift from a relaxed summer schedule to the structured routine of the school year can be jarring for some children. Early mornings, homework, and extracurricular activities can lead to exhaustion and stress.

Anxieties and Fears: Children may have worries about school, such as performance anxiety, fear of failure, or separation anxiety from parents or caregivers.

Bullying: Unfortunately, bullying can occur in school settings. If your child is experiencing such issues, it can have a profound impact on their mental and emotional health, and it must be addressed appropriately.

Strategies to Address Back-to-School Anxiety

One of the most valuable things you can do is encourage your child to express their fears and concerns about school in a way that feels comfortable for them. Listen attentively and validate their feelings, reassuring them that it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious during transitions. This open dialogue can help children feel understood and supported, thus reducing their anxiety.

Additionally, teach them that while anxiety is uncomfortable, it’s also temporary and manageable. Explore relaxation techniques together, such as deep breathing exercises or mindfulness, to equip them not just for the back-to-school period but for life.

As a parent or caregiver, you can play an important role in promoting self-care: encourage healthy habits, including regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and adequate sleep, to support your child’s overall well-being.

Involve your child in establishing a routine: Consistent routines can help children feel more secure and in control. Help your child set schedules for homework, establish bedtime routines, and consider how you could involve them in weekly planners for meals and extracurricular activities.

Building friendships and relationships: help your child think about how they might approach meeting new people, reminding them that many children will be in the same situation as them. Encourage and facilitate their participation in extracurricular activities to meet like-minded people.

Each child’s journey is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. What’s most important is that your child knows that you can provide them with the support and love to navigate the challenges they may face during the return to school. It is also okay for you to feel like you don’t have all the answers. If you are concerned, do not be afraid to reach out to your child’s school to discuss your observations and seek their insights. They may have valuable perspectives on your child, alongside some helpful suggestions and resources.

We understand the concerns and uncertainties that can arise when your child is struggling with the transition back to school. Should you sense that your child requires the support of a professional therapist within a safe environment, consider reaching out to us at The Retreat Clinics. Our friendly therapists and counsellors are specialists in children’s mental health and are equipped to aid if your child or young person is experiencing anxiety.

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How to Comfort Children Experiencing Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a form of anxiety difficulties that occurs when a child is separated from their parents or those close to them, resulting in feelings of distress and panic. It can be helpful for parents to be aware of the signs of separation anxiety in childhood, know how to recognise the symptoms, and learn how to help children cope with their anxiety. In this blog, we’ll look at the causes of childhood separation anxiety, as well as some tips on how to comfort children when feeling distressed

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a very common condition in which children experience extreme fear and distress when separated from their parents or primary caregivers. This type of anxiety can range from mild to severe and can be disruptive to the child’s everyday life. Symptoms of separation anxiety may include fear of being away from home, crying when separated from parents, excessive worrying about something happening to the parent, and physical symptoms like stomach aches and headaches.

Separation anxiety affects 4-9% of children (Anxiety Care UK, 2017).  It is important to remember that some separation anxiety is normal to a certain extent. Most children experience some level of anxiety when separated from their parents, however, if you are worried that your child’s anxiety is more severe or is having a negative impact on their lives, then it is important to consult a medical professional for advice.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of separation anxiety can include sleeplessness, poor appetite, headaches, stomach aches, and increased bed-wetting. These physical symptoms may start before the actual separation and can worsen when the separation occurs, indicating a heightened anxiety level. When the separation is completed, the physical symptoms may still persist and may continue until the child has time to process the situation. It is important to note that not all physical symptoms are derived from separation anxiety. If the physical symptoms last beyond a usual amount of time for your child, it is recommended to seek further psychological help.

Behavioural Symptoms

The most common behavioural symptoms of separation anxiety include crying, clinging, suppressing feelings, temper tantrums, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, and isolating oneself. Sometimes, children will experience physical and emotional outbursts.

Every child is different and external factors and past experiences may also be influencing your child’s behaviour. If several of the previously mentioned symptoms are present, it could be a sign of separation anxiety.

Causes of Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety can be a normal part of growing up, but it can become a problem for some children. But what are the causes?

Early Developmental Factors

When it comes to child separation anxiety, several early development factors come into play. The first is that young children naturally rely on their parents for security and safety. This dependency can leave them feeling vulnerable, particularly when faced with unfamiliar situations or being alone. Additionally, young children are still developing the cognitive ability to imagine results that don’t match the reality they are experiencing. This can cause the child to worry excessively about potential outcomes that might not necessarily come true. For instance, a young child may fear a parent never coming back after their separation.

Environmental factors can also lead to separation anxiety issues in young children. For instance, if a child is accustomed to constant support and connection in their home life, leaving it may lead to an uncomfortable level of anxiety. If they have previously experienced a traumatic event, such as being left alone and forgotten, separation can cause them to feel overwhelmed and unsafe.

Environmental Factors

Another environmental factor that can influence the development of separation anxiety is living in an atmosphere that encourages overprotection and a lack of independence. This can lead to a child feeling overwhelmed by the need to navigate life without the parental figure constantly present which could give rise to anxiety when left alone. Separation anxiety can be a very distressing experience for children, so it is important to be aware of the environmental factors that may contribute to its development.

Tips on Comforting Your Child

Comforting a child with separation anxiety can be challenging, but with patience and understanding, parents and caregivers can help alleviate their fears and foster a sense of security.

Create A Consistent Routine

Familiarity and structure provide a sense of stability and security in their lives, helping them feel more at ease when facing separation. By having a set routine for daily activities such as mealtimes, bedtimes, and departures, parents and caregivers can help reduce the uncertainty and fear that often accompany separation anxiety.

Encourage Open Communication

Encouraging open communication can comfort children with separation anxiety. By fostering honest and empathetic conversations, parents and caregivers can help children better understand and process their emotions, ultimately reducing the distress associated with separation anxiety.

To promote open communication, create a safe space where the child feels comfortable discussing their fears and anxieties without fear of judgment or dismissal. Actively listen to their concerns, validate their emotions, and offer reassurance, emphasising that it’s normal to feel anxious during times of separation. Sharing personal experiences or stories of others who have faced similar challenges can also help the child feel less alone in their struggle and provide them with valuable insights on how to cope with their anxiety.

Additionally, involving the child in problem-solving discussions can empower them to face their fears and develop practical coping strategies. By collaboratively brainstorming solutions and offering support, parents, and caregivers can help build the child’s confidence and resilience, enabling them to better manage their separation anxiety.

Empower Them With Coping Strategies

Empowering children experiencing separation anxiety by equipping them with coping strategies can nurture a sense of competence, allowing children to confidently face new situations and overcome their anxiety..

One effective coping strategy is teaching deep breathing exercises, which can help calm the child’s nervous system and reduce anxiety symptoms. Encourage the child to take slow, deep breaths, focusing on their inhales and exhales, whenever they feel anxious or overwhelmed. Visualisation techniques, such as imagining a safe and comforting place, can also provide solace during moments of distress.

Another approach is to make saying goodbye a positive time (NHS, 2023) that helps ease the transition during separations. This could be a special handshake, a hug, or a specific phrase that you share with your child before parting ways. Having a small comfort item, like a stuffed animal or a family photo, can also serve as a source of reassurance and connection when they are away from their caregiver.

Finally, encourage children to express their feelings through creative outlets, such as drawing, writing, or role-playing. This can help them process their emotions and gain new perspectives on their experiences.

By empowering children with these coping strategies, parents and caregivers can provide them with the tools they need to navigate separation anxiety and develop emotional resilience, ultimately enabling them to thrive in various life situations.

How Can Therapy Help?

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be a very effective tool in helping a child to cope with separation anxiety. Through engaging in CBT, a child can begin to recognise their anxious thought patterns and replace them with more positive and realistic thoughts. Additionally, by teaching children coping strategies such as distraction, grounding, and self-soothing techniques, they can be better equipped to handle the fear and distress of being separated from their loved ones. When a child is struggling with separation anxiety, it’s extremely important to offer them unconditional support and understanding.

Spend time talking to them, reassuring them, and addressing any worries they have. If their anxiety has become too overwhelming, professional help can also be incredibly valuable. With support and guidance, a child with separation anxiety can learn to cope more effectively and enjoy being separated from their parents or guardians without fear or distress.


Overall, parenting a child with separation anxiety can be difficult and challenging. The key is to approach it with understanding, validation, and patience. Each child is different and strategies must suit their individual needs. By offering reassurance, providing consistent routines, facilitating communication, teaching coping methods, and encouraging gradual exposure to new situations, parents can help to equip their children with the resilience they need to manage their emotions and navigate life’s challenges.

(Anxiety Care UK, 2017) –

(NHS, 2O23O)