Four Ways to Help Overcome Back-to-School Anxiety

By AnnElise Hatjakes, M.A.
Contributing Writer
Kirkman Group, Inc.

Back-to-school does not have to mean back-to-stress. Returning to a regimented school schedule after a long summer filled with free time and fun activities can be overwhelming for children. However, in the transition from play dates to testing dates, some strategies developed by parents, psychologists and experts in education can help you to manage your child’s back-to-school anxiety.

1. Provide your child with proper nutrition

Getting your children to eat a nutritious breakfast before rushing out the door to school can be difficult, but skipping breakfast can have negative impacts on a child’s academic performance in school, which in turn can lead to anxiety. Drew Ramsey, M.D., assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, explains, “Many people with anxiety disorders skip breakfast. I recommend that people eat things like eggs, which are a satiating and filling protein, and are nature’s top source of choline. Low levels of choline are associated with increased anxiety.”1

If your child is allergic to eggs, substitute with another protein that he or she can eat. It is also important to pack a nutrient-dense lunch that is free of processed foods, especially for kids on the spectrum. According to Dr. Ramsey, “Emerging research in the fields of neuroscience and nutrition show that people who eat a diet of modern processed foods have increased levels of depression, anxiety, mood swings, hyperactivity and a wide variety of other mental and emotional problems.”1 Packing a nutritious lunch for your children can help them to feel better throughout the day.

Many naturally occurring vitamins and minerals have also been shown to decrease symptoms associated with anxiety. In a review performed by Nutrition Journal, researchers found that extracts of passionflower or kava and combinations of L-lysine and L-arginine can effectively treat anxiety symptoms. Magnesium supplementation was also cited as being effective at treating anxiety and anxiety-related disorders when used in combination with other vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts, but the authors wrote that further research was necessary to verify this.2

2. Encourage physical activity during and after school

Incorporating physical activity into your child’s schedule can help him or her to suppress anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.”3

When it’s a struggle to persuade your child to stop playing video games and watching TV and start doing physical activity, putting a reward system into place can be helpful. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend children get one hour or more of physical activity each day. You and your child can decide together which types of physical activity he or she would like to do and they can keep track of it every day. Not only will they feel better physically, but they will also begin to feel better mentally as their stress levels decrease.

3. Put a predictable routine in place

The more predictable a child’s routine is, the more secure he or she will feel. Unpredictability and anxiety are integrally related since anxiety often stems from a fear of the unknown. If your child has an anxiety disorder, it is especially important to make him or her aware of their schedule. Sitting down with them to organize the schedule can also help to make them feel like they have a stake in how their day goes.

While your child may not know exactly what they will be doing at school each day, they will know what they will be doing before and after school, which makes their routine more predictable. This is especially true for children on the autism spectrum. One mother writes about these specific struggles in her article titled “Autism’s Back-to-School Anxiety.” She explains how interruptions to daily schedules and “potentially upsetting stimuli” like new sounds and new faces can affect children with ASD.4 In the wake of possibly upsetting changes, a predictable routine can help a child feel secure.

4. Validate your child’s concerns

Even when your child seems to feel stressed or anxious for no valid reason, it is necessary that parents realize that their child’s stress is real to him or her. The Students First Project aims to provide parents and teachers with tools to help children cope with stress and anxiety. In addition to validating a child’s concerns, the organization also suggests minimizing the importance of competition in the classroom, modeling appropriate responses to stress and allowing choices so that the child feels in control. These choices could be included in the physical activity reward system and the creation of your child’s daily schedule.


1 Ramsey, D., M.D (2012, July 27). Eat For Happiness: 5 Rules . In Huffpost Healthy Living. Retrieved August 10, 2013

2 Lakhan, S., Ph.D., M.D., & Vieira, K. (2010, October 10). Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review. Nutrition Journal, 9(42). Retrieved August 9, 2013

3 Exercise for Stress and Anxiety (n.d.). In Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from

4 Gilman, P. (n.d.). Autism’s Back-to-School Anxiety. In The Daily Beast. Retrieved September 24, 2011, from