How Mercy Home Helps Kids with Back-to-School Anxiety
We all remember that feeling when summer starts to wind down and the first day of school creeps closer. A new grade, a new teacher – maybe even a new school with new kids. Our minds begin to race: what am I going to wear? Who am I going to talk to? How much homework will I get? What if I can’t find my classroom? Back-to-school anxiety is very real, and it can it can be very overwhelming.
At Mercy Home, we help our kids prepare for this transition and cope with back-to-school anxiety. It begins with our summer enrichment programs. Keeping our kids’ minds engaged throughout the summer makes it a little easier when it’s time to return to school and jump back into their routines.
But no matter how much structure kids have over the summer, there’s something about the days leading up to school that creates anxiety. It’s perfectly normal.
“A lot of our kids suffer from anxiety, especially back-to-school anxiety, so we reiterate the fact that worrying about it is ok”
“A lot of our kids suffer from anxiety, especially back to school anxiety, so we reiterate the fact that worrying about it is ok,” said Eddie Meredith, a therapist at Mercy Home. “Everybody gets worried when you go back to school. So just making sure that they’re not feeling like the only ones that are worried about it; all your peers in the program are as well.”
One of the things we do to help alleviate some of this anxiety is going through prep courses with kids the week before school starts. In these courses, we go over their syllabi, make sure they have their readings done, double-check their school supplies, and help them plan what clothes to wear.
While these courses address some universal worries most kids have, there are some unique concerns our kids are presented with living in the city of Chicago. Most of our younger kids are driven to and from school, but many of our high school kids self-transport. And with their schools spread out across the city, this usually means navigating public transportation.
“Public transportation can be triggering for a lot of guys because they’ve never been on a train or a bus,” Eddie explained. “We practice school route with them. We’ll take kids on the school route and they’ll be anxious about it because some of them have never taken public transportation. Transportation is a big independent skill that we help them learn throughout their teenage years.”
“We’ll take kids on the school route and they’ll be anxious about it because some of them have never taken public transportation. Transportation is a big independent skill that we help them learn throughout their teenage years.”
Another element that contributes to our kids’ back-to-school anxiety is the fact that they may still be adjusting to their transition into Mercy Home. It’s a lot to ask of a kid to move away from their family and the environment they know. Some even start a new school when they come here. And for many of our kids, school was not an important part of their life before they came to Mercy Home.
“A lot of them dropped out of school or stopped going to school, or were really inconsistent with school,” Eddie said. “When they come here, the expectation is that you attend school every day – it’s part of their academic treatment as well. So that can be a huge struggle for them.”
Having been out of school or inconsistent with their attendance can add to the back-to-school anxiety our kids experience. Many kids enter our care several grade levels behind their peers in academic performance. Catching them back up and getting them reacquainted with academic work isn’t always easy, but we slowly try to rebuild these skills and practices to help reduce their anxiety around school.
“Some of them don’t have the specific study habits that are needed to successfully study for an exam, so that’s a skill that we help them learn,” Eddie said. “A lot of them have exam anxiety – they could study for hours and hours and hours – then when they take a test, it’s like, ‘I just forgot everything.’ That’s another skill we help them develop.”
If your child is experiencing back-to-school anxiety, we encourage you to create a dialogue with them and let them know what they are feeling is normal. Try asking them question about what they are nervous about, and if possible, help them prepare for these specific situations. Maybe share some stories about things that made you anxious about going back to school when you were their age.