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Tips to Reduce Back-to-School and Separation Anxiety

Back to school is approaching, making it a stressful time for parents and children so we looked to the experts for some specific tips to aid in this transition. Here are 5 tips The Johns Hopkins University recommends to help ease back-to-school anxiety for children.

"The transition back to class as summer ends can be a stressful time for children and parents alike. Some anxiety is a normal response, but parents should know the difference between normal back-to-school jitters and anxiety that warrants clinical attention.

There are several easy ways to tell when a child's anxiety is cause for concern, say psychology experts from the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Anxiety symptoms that persist beyond the first few weeks of school and that seem excessive may require consultation with an expert, says Johns Hopkins Children's Center psychologist Courtney Keeton, who specializes in the treatment of childhood anxiety and selective mutism.

Many children, for example, display some difficulty separating from parents to attend school, however tantrums when separating, problems sleeping alone or refusal to attend activities without parents may suggest a problem requiring intervention.

Likewise, some shyness or worry about schedules, schoolwork, or friends is natural during the back-to-school transition, but ongoing withdrawal or worries may signal a problem.

“If a child's anxiety is causing a great deal of distress in her or his daily life, or if getting along with family members or friends becomes difficult, normal activities in and outside of school are avoided, or there are physical symptoms like stomachaches or fatigue, these ‘red flags' indicate that the child's anxiety should be evaluated by a child psychologist or psychiatrist,” says Keeton.

However, it is normal for nearly all children to experience mild back-to-school jitters that gradually diminish over a few weeks.

Tips to Ease Back-to-School Anxiety
  • A week or two before school, start preparing children for the upcoming transition by getting back to school year routines, such as a realistic bedtime and selecting tomorrow's clothes.

  • Arrange play dates with one or more familiar peers before school starts. Research shows that the presence of a familiar peer during school transitions can improve children's academic and emotional adjustment.

  • Visit the school before the school year begins, rehearse the drop-off and spend time on the playground or inside the classroom if the building is open. Have the child practice walking into class while the parent waits outside or down the hall.

  • Come up with a prize or a rewarding activity that the child could earn for separating from mom or dad to attend school.

  • Validate the child's worry by acknowledging that, like any new activity, starting school can be hard but soon becomes easy and fun."

Separation Anxiety in Preschoolers

What is it?

Separation Anxiety, or anxiety around leaving attachment figures and/or the home, is a typical, healthy part of development for children between the areas of 6 months and 3 years. When this anxiety goes beyond what is typical for the developmental stage or continues into childhood, adolescence, or adulthood, it may become Separation Anxiety Disorder.


While separation anxiety can be developmentally appropriate for young children, persisting severe attachment and extreme anxiety issues may be atypical for their age and development. Some symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty saying goodbye to parents

  • Tantrums when faced with separation

  • Distress when anticipating separation

  • Nightmares about separation

By the time children are 3 years old, they should begin showing less signs of separation anxiety as they become more aware that separation is only temporary.

Tips to Reducing Separation Anxiety
  • Quick good-bye rituals: Try keeping your goodbyes short and sweet. If you linger, the transition time does too.

  • Be consistent: try creating a ritual of drop-off to avoid unexpected factors when you can.

  • Practice being apart: Try leaving your child in a room for 1 minute at a time and gradually increase the length of time. Send your child to grandma's house, schedule playdates, and/or allow friends or family members to care for your child.

  • Always tell your child you are leaving: Never sneak out! It is important that you prepare your child before leaving.

  • Attention: when separating, give your child full attention and be loving. Then say good-bye quickly despite their cries for you to stay.

  • Keep your promise: you'll build trust and independence as your child becomes more confident in their ability to be without you when you stick to your promise of return.

Books That Discuss Separation Anxiety

See You Soon: A Children's Book for Mothers and Toddlers dealing with Separation Anxiety

What to Do When You Don't Want to Be Apart: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Separation Anxiety

Benny the Brave in The First Day Jitters: A children’s book about big emotions, bravery, and first day of school jitters.

Source for Johns Hopkins Article on 5 Tips to Ease Back-to-School Anxiety:

5 tips to ease back-to-school anxiety. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2021, August 8). Retrieved



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