Back-to-School Blues

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Do you have the back-to-school blues?

When a child begins a new school year, it can sometimes lead to a period of depression and anxiety in one or both parents. This is particularly true if the child is beginning a milestone year, such as kindergarten, the first year of high school or the first year away at college.

This emotional upheaval can be due to any combination of factors:

  • Recognition that your child is growing older and that his childhood is passing
  • A sense of helplessness in knowing your child is entering a world outside the realm of your protection
  • Worry that your child will have difficulty adjusting or making friends
  • Loneliness—particularly if you're a stay-at-home parent or have a child who is leaving home to attend college
  • Readjusting to a change in routine

David Shelburne, MD, a physician at Family Medicine - Reynolda, points out that parents can experience what is known as "empty nest syndrome" at any stage during a child's education, not just when he goes off to college. The feeling is particularly acute in late summer/early fall as school is beginning.

"It's a very anxious time for a parent," says Dr. Shelburne. "There are so many unknowns and what-ifs when you drop your child off at school. You realize you no longer have the same levels of control and influence you had when he was home all the time. For many parents it can also be a period of grieving over the gradual fading of childhood."

The changes a new school year can bring aren't just difficult for parents. Kids and their siblings can be affected as well.

How Parents Can Cope

When your main priority in life is to protect and care for your child, letting him out into the world can induce a lot of anxiety. To abate some of your fears, focus on how important school is for your child.

"Your child needs school to find his path and to discover who he is," says Dr. Shelburne. "Celebrate this opportunity for him to discover passions, interests and friendships."

If your blue mood continues, talk to your doctor or a professional counselor. Some of the same methods used for treating general depression and anxiety are ones that will be effective in helping you cope with this transition in your child's life.

How Kids Can Cope

While your child may have some anxiety about the new school year, he's probably excited about it as well. Your job is to help make the transition as smooth as possible so that he starts the year out on the right foot.

To do this, ease your child into his new routine slowly over a period of several weeks. For example, you don't want him to go from sleeping late on the Sunday morning before school, to suddenly having to wake up bright and early Monday morning.

How Siblings Can Cope

Don't forget the impact a new school year can have on the younger children in your household. When an older brother or sister heads off to school, the child who is still at home may experience a period of loneliness. To head off such feelings, redirect your younger child's attention to a new hobby or event (for example, a swim class or new play group).

If you or one of your children begin experiencing severe anxiety or depression, be sure to talk to your doctor about it right away.

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Last Updated: 04-14-2014
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Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.