Working with Back-to-School Nerves

By Dr. Kelly Moore

This is my 8th year at EPS and still, each year finds me managing the butterflies in my stomach as I imagine the first day back.  I know this is true for many of our students and likely twice as much for students who will be attending Eastside Prep for the first time.  As adults, it is easy for us to see the long view and be excited for this new school year but younger students have a more difficult time seeing that how they feel right this minute will not be how they will feel one month from now.    To that end, here are a few things you can do as a parent to help your child with this transition.

Normalize Back to School Jitters
No matter how cool, calm and collected everyone else may look – we all experience some form of worry when approaching a new situation.    As human beings, we are wired to be somewhat suspicious of the new and in an effort to keep ourselves safe, imagine all sorts of things that can go wrong.   Remind your kids that this is a normal part of starting something new.

Help them remember successful transitions in the past
Most of us lose confidence when we are nervous and forget just how skilled we are at navigating change.  Helping your student think of camps, school experiences or other times of change and transition that eventually worked out, will help them remember that anxiety is temporary and that they are more experienced with change than they think.

Nervous vs. Excited
Remind your student (or teach them) that being nervous and being excited feel identical in the body.  Both emotions activate the sympathetic nervous system in similar ways, the only real difference is how we attribute that sensation.  When we are getting ready to go to a concert or on a great vacation, we say we are excited.  When we are approaching something new or novel, we say we are nervous.  Physiologically, they are the same.

Don’t talk them out of their feelings
There is an old adage that says we are as happy as our least happy child.  Because our own wellbeing is so inextricably tied to our children’s, we can find ourselves in the position of trying to talk them out of feeling bad.  This can take the form of trying to remind them of all the good things ahead or it could be minimizing the fear they are feeling now. While this is tempting, it rarely works.  What I have found is that instead of relaxing the anxiety, it often escalates it either because the child then feels bad about having his or her feelings OR because they want to up the ante and argue their case for why things are going to be so bad.  In general, kids are not nervous because they don’t see all the good things ahead but because there is uncertainty.  Uncertainty causes anxiety in all of us, that is just normal.

More than just nerves?
Of course, if your child is more than just a little jittery or if you think there is something more serious going on, make sure you let their Advisor know or feel free to contact me (