Back to school butterflies are a natural phenomenon. The two most frequent words I am hearing in my psychology practice about back to school are “excited” and “anxious”. They are both uttered simultaneously and related to unknowns. When I ask children what they mean by these words, they explain excited to mean seeing friends, discovering their classmates and new school supplies. Anxiety is described as worries of academic challenges, whether they will be liked, and uncertainty about their teacher’s temperament. When anxiety seems overly intense and symptoms manifest such as separation anxiety or physical complaints, psychological intervention may prove helpful.
For some children, back to school transitions will be compounded by new schools, rather than solely different classrooms. Whether preschool, kindergarten, first grade, middle school, high school or college, newness is experienced with excitement and anxiety. Regardless of the child’s age, the questions seem similar.
- Will I be accepted or rejected?
- What will my teacher(s) be like?
- Will I feel lost in my surroundings or enjoy the adventure?
- Will I be challenged in a good way or too much?
- Will I get good grades?
Back to school emotions tend to exacerbate psychological problems. Anxiety, depression and excitement are intertwined. Imagine students with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) with all these emotions. What might be visible is ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), irritability, bullying, negative self-esteem and social issues. This would compound the typical symptoms of ADHD such as increased hyperactivity and lack of focus. Now we have the picture of a kid who starts the school year grounded by parents, considered disruptive by teachers, and labeled as a troublemaker by peers. Tempers flare among adults and kids. Classrooms are affected; marriages can be affected; family life is affected.
As a psychologist, I like to develop compassion and understanding with parents and teachers. They say it is helpful to understand the nature of their child’s disorder, emotions the kids are dealing with, and how to lead with empathy. I like to teach kids what is and what is not beyond their control and how to best adjust to newness.