Back-to-school blues are normal
When a child begins a new school year, it can sometimes lead to a period of depression and anxiety for not only the child, but other family members as well. This is particularly true if the child is beginning a milestone year, such as kindergarten, the first year of high school or the first year away at college.
David Shelburne, M.D., family and community medicine physician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, says parents can experience what is known as “empty nest syndrome” at any stage of a child’s education, not only when he/she goes to college. The feeling is particularly acute in late summer/early fall as school is beginning.
“It’s a very anxiety-provoking time for a parent,” says Shelburne. “There are many unknowns and what-if’s when you drop off your child at school. Around this time, some parents realize they no longer have the same level of control and influence they once had, and others grieve over the gradual fading of childhood.”
The changes a new school year can bring aren’t just difficult for parents. Kids and their siblings can be affected as well.
How Parents Can Cope
To assuage some of your fears, focus on how important school is for your child.
“Children need school to find their path and to discover who they are,” Shelburne said. “Celebrate this opportunity for your child to discover new passions, interests and friendships.”
How Kids Can Cope
Your child may experience a range of emotions – both positive and negative – before the start of school. Help make the transition as smooth by easing your child into his/her new routine slowly over a period of several weeks. For example, begin setting an earlier bedtime and earlier rise time well in advance.
How Siblings Can Cope
When an older brother or sister heads off to school, the child who remains at home may experience a period of loneliness. To mitigate such feelings, redirect your younger child’s attention to a new hobby or event (for example, a swim class or new play group).
If you continue feeling low or your child’s blue mood persists, talk to a doctor or professional counselor. Some of the same methods used for treating general depression and anxiety are ones that will be effective in helping you cope with this transition.
“It’s perfectly natural to experience these emotions during periods of major change,” Shelburne said. “Be sure to seek help – you are certainly not alone.”