First weeks of middle school can lead to anxiety for your child

After a long, leisurely summer, your kids – and you – will have to readjust to the new school year routine. Early mornings. Sack lunches. After-school activities. And homework. But for some kids, back-to-school can be an anxious time – especially if they’re making the jump from grade school to middle school.

Last year, they had one teacher, one desk and they knew all of their classmates. Now, they have to walk unfamiliar halls, find their classes, work with many different teachers, meet new kids…and remember their locker combination. On top of that, old friendships can change or even dissolve as new social circles form. It’s not easy figuring out where to belong in this new world.

In other words, new middle schoolers have a lot on their plate. Sometimes the anxiety manifests itself as a physical ailment. As a pediatrician, I’ve seen kids with complaints of fatigue, abdominal pain, headaches and even panic attacks. 

As a parent, it’s heartbreaking. You want to go to every single class, talk to every teacher and fend off any bullies before they get a chance. Of course that’s a bad idea and may cause deep embarrassment. More importantly, your child won’t learn the coping skills that will be necessary later in life.

What can you do as a parent?

Don’t minimize what they are going through. 

We never recommend that you say, “Don’t worry. You’ll get over it.” This sends the message that their concerns are not important. In addition to feeling anxious, your child will feel guilty – about feeling anxious. 

Listen carefully to their concerns, and try to let them know that it’s normal to feel that way. You can also point out that they’ve overcome past anxious moments, and tell them you know they can face this one as well. This is a very important time in a child’s life to have regular conversations about what is going on in their life, and it’s a great opportunity to show them that you care about what is important to them.

Maintain a routine

As difficult as it can be, keeping a routine is important to limit the amount of “unknown” in their day. Regular meals, morning and evening routines, and even regular chores can help kids of all ages improve their sense of belonging and help them realize the importance of their role within the family. We all know this time of year gets so busy, but having some routines to rely on helps us all be more confident.

However, approach this with caution: over-scheduling is a common struggle for kids of all ages, so be sure some free time to unwind and relax is a part of every day.

Make sure they get plenty of sleep 

Sleep is a critical aspect for everyone’s health, but it’s especially important for children. Sleep gives them time for both their body and mind to recharge. Adequate sleep is very important, because it helps their brain develop. It also gives us time for an emotional reset – we often have a fresh perspective after a good night’s sleep, making it easier to take on new challenges and deal with daily stress of being a teenager.

WORDS Tara Ulmer, MD
Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine at Monument Health in Spearfish

Dr. Ulmer is a board-certified pediatrician experienced in caring for healthy children as well as children with special health care needs. She enjoys caring for a variety of children’s needs, ranging from acute illnesses to complicated long term needs. Dr. Ulmer’s practice is located at the Monument Health Medical Clinic-North Avenue in Spearfish. She also travels regularly to the Monument Health Medical Clinic in Newcastle.