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Back-to-school anxiety and bullying: Signs to look for and how to beat it

By Rene D. Czerwinski

Pacific Medical Center Totem Lake

With back-to-school season upon us, children are watching the final days of summer vacation slip away as the first day of school looms ahead. This naturally calls for a mix of excitement, nervousness and—in most cases—anxiety. Students of all ages often struggle with anxiety when preparing for the school year as fears of the unknown flood their mind.

The typical reasons for anxiety vary by age but can stem from a variety of concerns such as the quantity of homework, if the teacher will be strict or mean, if the student will fit in or make friends, and the overwhelming stress of school sports tryouts. Thankfully, parents can help alleviate these concerns through consistent emotional and mental support.

As a licensed mental health counselor, I always advise parents that patience is first—and it’s much easier to be patient when you establish consistent patterns. This includes helping your child set up a bedtime routine and having regular, one-on-one conversations about your child’s day. It’s important to provide your undivided attention during these times and eliminate television, cell phones or any other distractions to validate your child’s concerns and let them know they have your support and can come to you with any issue.

Once school starts and children fall into a new routine, monitor your child’s anxiety levels and behavior to determine if their emotional state improves or declines. Bullying at school is a common source of anxiety for children, and being able to identify signs of bullying during the initial stages is key to protecting your child from long-term effects.

Signs parents should watch for include unexplained injuries, lost or damaged clothing, missing books or electronics, and frequent headaches, stomachaches or “fake” illnesses to stay home from school. Victims of bullying experience severe anxiety and will also struggle with nightmares, depression, weight loss or weight gain, and inconsistent mood swings.

If you think your child is a victim of bullying, you can provide support by educating them on how to respond appropriately. To defuse a threatening situation, for example, you can teach them to walk away and to not retaliate with foul language or name calling. If your child witnesses bullying at school, remind them to speak up for others and report these incidents to a faculty member or other adult immediately.

If bullying becomes a recurring issue for your child and you start to notice the impact on their personal well-being, it’s crucial that you get involved and address the issue directly with the school. I always encourage parents to meet with the administration and share specific examples of the bullying that is occurring, and determine a plan of action together before leaving to ensure there is a strategy in place for resolving the issue.

While identifying and addressing bullying is imperative to your child’s well-being, teaching and empowering your child to stick up for others and not bully is equally important. Educate your child on how to set boundaries and lead by example, while encouraging an attitude of respect and acceptance for others and their differences.

By following these tips, we can inspire a younger generation to develop healthier and safer communities, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Rene D. Czerwinski, LMHC, NCC, is a psychotherapist at the Pacific Medical Center Totem Lake clinic.