Back to School Anxiety


I know I am not alone when I admit that I am nervous about sending my 5 year old to kindergarten this year.  I mean, lets be honest, 2021, COVID or not, sending your first kid on their education journey is a bit nerve wracking.  To be fair, it does not get easier after your first child.  No matter if it is a first timer headed to kindergarten, middle school, high school, or college, it can be an adjustment.

I know you’re thinking about all the things that they have to deal with and their stress.  However, that is not exactly what I am getting at.  I am talking about the stress, uncertainty, and lack of control that swoop around out of nowhere and knock the wind out of us unsuspecting parents.  Yes, even parents whose job it is to help other parents in these situations.  Of course it is a big adjustment for the kids, and they have a lot to get used to, absorb, retain, and use daily.  But, I think that rarely do we hear about the impact that it has on the parents of those kids and often those parents jokingly brush off their own anxiety, sadness, fears of incompetence, not being good enough, or not fitting in with the other kids’ parents.  Either that, or they keep it to themselves and tell themselves to “knock it off, it is not about you!”

I am here to tell you, you are definitely not alone.  I consider myself a pretty “laid back parent” all things considered.  Well, I am seriously reconsidering that idea.  After the first experience of getting school supplies, I was certain that I would most definitely have a lot more surprises and adjustments ahead.  I had to find specific brands, colors, materials, and amounts of folders, notebooks, pens, markers and glue sticks.  I don’t think I knew that there were plastic folders with brads and pockets!!  Then, the first week there was “Open House” and “Orientation” and “Popscicles on the Playground” before the actual “First Day.”  Excuse me?  Really?  Where is the description of these events?  What do I wear?  What does my kid wear?  Mask?  No Mask?  Do I need to take notes, bring supplies, two parents, one parent, kid only, what time?  How am I supposed to calm her nerves and anxiety when my anxiety is OUT OF CONTROL!?

Listen, I am a psychologist, and I help people with anxiety everyday.  That does not mean I am not allowed to have my own anxieties.  So, if the helpers need helpers and have to take a step back and breathe, remind themselves that it is one step at a time, a learning experience, and questions are expected, why wouldn’t anyone need help?  Some schools have already started, and some schools are set to start in a week or two.  When you are feeling overwhelmed, emotional, anxious, or sad, here are some things you can do to help get through it.

  • Take a step back and remind yourself to take one thing at a time. Get a calendar or a planner that works best for you and write down everything going on for the next month ahead of time. A lot of people use their phone, this is great if it works, however, sometimes looking at a whole month at once and seeing the “now and later” events gives a better picture of what needs done and how to prepare.
  • Use your support systems and ask for help.  You don’t have to do it alone! Call friends, peers/other parents or guardians to ask questions and get an idea of what they know or are doing.  If you have multiple children, take one day to get each one ready and have a family member watch the others, so you are not trying to get things from 3 supply lists at once.  Or, do a kid swap with another parent and help one another out.
  • Get enough rest, exercise, and eat healthy.  You have to take care of yourself to take care of others. You know… the whole airplane mask breathing analogy?  Enough said.
  • Remember this IS an emotional time.  You are allowed to feel things.  Work on balancing those feelings with excitement for your child.  Share your stress or sadness or fears with other adult supports, not your kids.  Share your excitement, confidence, and support with your kids.  Tell them stories about great things from your school years, and answer their questions.  Help them to get enough sleep and be understanding when they are short tempered, cranky, or mean “for no reason” in the days before school starts.

In recent years, the whole school process has become more complex with the recent COVID precautions and options between online in the home, in school, and hybrid options for schooling.  It definitely adds another layer of anxiety and emotionality for parents.  This is on top of the typical anxiety and emotionality of sending our kids off without us to make good choices and learn.  With a little patience and support we can all get through it and raise and teach the next generation of great humans!