As summer draws to an end, the anticipation of returning to school often brings excitement for students of all ages. Catching up with friends, making new ones, and resuming school-related activities are welcome after the summer break. For some students and parents, however, going back to school can cause stress.
“Stress associated with returning to school is the number one stressor of the fall,” says Susan Barrett, LCSW, a therapist who treats many children, adolescents, and young adults at Christian Health Care Counseling Center.
Elementary school, high school, and college each carry unique stressors.
“When children enter third grade, for instance, the volume of homework increases,” Ms. Barrett says. “To alleviate their child’s stress, parents may get too involved helping with homework, which can then affect the youngster’s feeling of competency.”
Stress amps up in high school, partly due to extracurricular activities and pressure to over-achieve. Each grade has its own set of stressors. Freshmen face issues transitioning from elementary school; seniors are applying to college and making important decisions about their future. Once in college, some students have trouble managing their new-found independence or a heavy class load.
“Most typically, students feel that they are constantly being judged by their peers, teachers, and parents. Stressors have increased, and they are struggling,” Ms. Barrett says. “Many more students are suffering from anxiety and depression, which has resulted in an increase in teen suicide and heroin abuse.”
Parents experience stress, too. They feel pressure to be involved in their child’s school and may feel guilty if they can’t volunteer. And as their children get older and become more independent, they experience great anxiety.
“Parents’ stress on a scale of one to 10 is a 10,” Ms. Barrett says.
How can back-to-school stress be alleviated? Communication is key. Encourage children to express their feelings about the new school year, their workload, extracurricular activities, and relationships with peers, teachers, and coaches. Stay calm, help set priorities, and assist with establishing a daily schedule, including a list of responsibilities for each family member.
Falling grades, sporadic attendance, and ongoing depression, anxiety, and anger are cues that professional intervention may be necessary. Christian Health Care Counseling Center provides outpatient treatment for children, adolescents, adults, seniors, and families. Treatment may involve working on personal issues, goals, and problem-solving strategies. When appropriate, family members may be involved. For some, treatment requires medication to alleviate disruptive symptoms that can interfere with daily life.