3 Ways to Ease Back-To-School Panic

By Amy Levin-Epstein, REDBOOK

School anxiety is on the rise, says Diane Peters Mayer, a psychotherapist in Doylestown, PA - and it can show up in children as headaches, stomachaches, or other reasons to stay home sick. "A lot of the increase in kid angst I've seen is linked to family stress from a tough economy," she says.

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If a family moves because of a job change, or parents are stressed by juggling work and child care, that can make a kid feel scared and unstable - which can turn into a fear of going to school. Here's how to deal.

1. Preschoolers and kindergarteners:
Reassure them with facts. "Tell them who's dropping them off and picking them up and when," says Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., author of Freeing Your Child From Anxiety. "And every time you drive by school, wave and say, 'Hi, swing set! Hi, preschool!' to make it something to look forward to."

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2. Late elementary and middle schoolers:
"Kids this age are likely to go from a system where they had a couple of teachers to one where every period is different and the work is tougher," says Joshua Sparrow, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Talk about how and when homework will get done, and remind kids of past successes (like learning to ride a bike) that seemed overwhelming at first, Chansky says.

3. High schoolers:
Social pressures like being in the "wrong" clique or even being bullied are common anxiety triggers here. It can also be more extreme: "If your teen loses complete interest in school or says there's no point in going, that could be a sign of depression," Chansky says.

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Whatever you do, don't let school stress slide. "Avoiding the fear will only make it more severe," Sparrow says. If things haven't improved by Thanksgiving, ask your pediatrician to recommend a therapist who takes your insurance.

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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.