10 Red Flags a Kid Is Anxious About Starting School & What to Do About It

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Some parents may consider back-to-school season the most wonderful time of the year -- a la that famous Staples commercial of the dad gleefully shopping for school supplies with his glum kids in tow. The summer was undoubtedly filled with endless "I'm bored-s" and snack requests. Indeed, a return to structured schedules may seem like bliss for some.

The truth is the kids may be more than just sad abut going back. This transitional time can be very stressful for children, particularly if they’re entering a new school. To make matters even worse, kids don’t typically have the ability to verbalize when they’re feeling anxious and explain what exactly is troubling them — even if there’s a communicative and open relationship with the parent.

“While kids’ behavior is easily visible, it’s important to think of it as the visible part of a huge iceberg of feelings and experiences,” says Erin McCarthy, a licensed independent clinical social worker. “Our goal is to look at what the behavior is communicating.”

Such behaviors are many and varied and can easily be mistaken for a child having a bad day. So, parents need to be observant for certain behavioral red flags that may indicate a child is going through undue stress. And the first step in relieving stress in a child is taking note that it is there. Here, three mental health professionals walk us through 10 signs of stress in children and give the best parental responses for dealing with each.

“Our goal is not to eliminate the stressor -- with the exception of abuse -- but to support the child in meeting the stressor and achieving mastery,” McCarthy says.

  • Problem: They’re Experiencing Changes in Sleep


    Your child has a drastic change in sleep habits — such as the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or wake up on time — before the new school year starts.

  • Response: Fix Their Sleep Schedule


    About a week or two before the new year, start slowly re-adjusting your child’s bedtime so they can adapt to their new schedule, says Dr. Marnee Schneider, a pediatric clinical neuropsychologist. Then, keep to a strict schedule as normalcy and structure are good for kids.

  • Problem: They’re Moody


    Your child becomes suddenly very moody and emotionally charged, perhaps crying more than usual or responding unusually defensively to situations.

  • Response: Let Them Feel Their Feelings


    “Be with your child in their emotions,” says Eliza Kingsford, a licensed psychotherapist. “Reflect to them what you see: ‘I get it. You’re really sad right now.’” Allow them to completely feel their feelings. After they’ve calmed down, and if your child is old enough, try to have a conversation about what you’ve observed about their behavior, she says.

  • Problem: They’re Acting Clingy


    Your child becomes suddenly clingy and doesn’t want you to leave -- such as when you’re dropping them off at school.

  • Response: Spend One-On-One Time Together


    They could be experiencing separation anxiety, says McCarthy. Spend some fun one-on-one time with your child for 15 to 30 minutes a day. “Don’t ask questions; just let them lead,” McCarthy says. “This special time is like gold for children.” Additionally, it’s important to teach your child that, even if you go away, you’ll always return.

  • Problem: They’re Emotional Eating


    Your child is showing signs of emotional eating, such as binging, hiding food, and sneaking food.

  • Response: Model Appropriate Eating


    They’re likely turning to food for emotional comfort because they don’t know how to prop