Going back to school can be stressful for K12 students. Most kids have enjoyed their summer vacations, especially now that more social activities have resumed. But now they’re starting to stress out about the upcoming school year. Transitioning back to school can trigger anxiety as K12 students may worry about being able to make new friends, keeping up with schoolwork, entering middle or high school, or other issues.
Children now face these same sources of anxiety, but the experiences of the last few years will make the back-to-school experience even tougher. COVID restrictions have eased up, but many children are still traumatized by disruptions in their family situation; financial stress; food insecurity, isolation from peers, grief for the untimely death of loved ones, and more.
Raised levels of child and adolescent anxiety have never been more clear:
According to a 2021 CDC survey, 37% of public and private high school students reported that their mental health was not good during the pandemic.
A meta-analysis of 29 studies published in 2021 showed that the prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms during COVID-19 has doubled compared to pre-pandemic estimates.
According to the data analyzed by the GAO (Government Accountability Office), one in five students—roughly 5.2 million —aged 12 to 18 were bullied in 2018–19. While bullying and cyberbullying may have decreased up to 30-40% when schools went to remote learning in the spring of 2020, the numbers began to increase schools transitioned back to classroom learning in the spring of 2021.
For students who have been bullied in the past, being home during COVID may have been a reprieve—and they may fear being taunted or the subject of mean or dangerous behaviors.
What Can Educators Do to Ease Student Stress Levels?
The American Academy of Pediatrics has called schools and school-supported programs fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being. Parents and caregivers have long relied on schools to build social and emotional skills and provide physical therapy, mental health services, and other benefits.
Schools recognize their vital role, leading them to invest in more programs that support student mental and emotional health. A study by CASEL found that the share of schools implementing a separate, specific SEL curriculum was 57% in 2019, up from 51% two years earlier. In addition, despite continuing staff shortages, many schools are focused on ramping up services to address student mental health issues.
5 Tips to Ease Anxiety as Students Go Back to School
There’s no question that while we’re doing our best, we can always do more. Here are five tips for helping staff and students make the back-to-school transition easier for stressed-out students.
Encourage Parent-School Communication: Be in touch with parents (and encourage parents to contact you) when red flags emerge, such as disruptive behavior, avoidance of activities, and mood changes. Leverage your phone system, email, videoconferencing, and other technology tools when face-to-face communication isn’t possible.
Make Resources More Accessible: More schools are using mobile technology, such as STOPit Solution’s HELPme app, to increase the school community’s direct access to services, including local emergency response teams, mental health resources, reporting about bullying incidents, crisis hotlines, and more.
Foster Resilience: Help students learn to regulate stress and make good decisions by creating programs that build neuroresilience among students.
Focus on staff well-being: Teachers and staff may also be anxious about re-engaging with students and other staff members. Schools can take action to build connections, establish peer support systems, create opportunities for stress relief, and provide counseling as needed.
Build wellness into the curriculum: Educators can use modeling, lessons, and activities to promote wellness and create a more supported school environment.
Stay Alert and Prepared for Anxiety-Related Problems
Anxiety, depression, and other wellness issues will never disappear, and schools face more challenges than ever. Proper training can help educators spot warning signs and assess when it’s time to bring in mental health professionals. Tools and training from STOPit provide technology and programs to help k12 schools create a healthier, productive environment where students can thrive.