August 27, 2014 6:57 pm

Heading back to school may be stressful for children

TORONTO – Heading back to the stress of a new grade, new school and maybe new friends can be stressful for many children.

Eleven year old Jordan Lau will be starting Grade 6 next week and admits he is a bit nervous about going back to school.

“The usual stuff, what teacher, how many friends – I haven’t seen them in two months,” he said.

For elementary children who are starting school for the first time it can be tough says Dr. David Scwartzbein, the chief of psychological services at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

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“They’ve never been to school.  They’re strangers in a strange land and that makes people nervous. Am I going to be able to cope?” he said.

Schwartzbein adds students in middle and high school are typically anxious because they have some experience but still worried about fitting in with other students.

“It’s stressful because they’re more worried about fitting in.  They’ve had experiences,” he said.  “Maybe they’ve struggled in the past either academically socially or emotionally.  That makes them a bit more vulnerable.”

In Depth: What you need to know for back to school season

A survey by the Canadian Association of Mental Health found 26 per cent of Ontario students in Grades 7 to 12 experienced symptoms of psychological distress such as depression or anxiety.

The Toronto District School Board found secondary school students were more likely to report experiencing emotional challenges than middle school students in grades 7 and 8.  For instance, while over a third of the Grade 9-12 students said they were under a lot of stress (38 per cent) and nervous or anxious (34 per cent) all the time or often, the respective percentages for the Grade 7-8 students were 18 per cent and 26 per cent.

Schwartzbein says it’s better to ask questions instead of telling kids not to worry and things will get better.

“You can just say tell me what are some of the thoughts you have about going to school?  What’s in your mind?  What do you think it’s going to be like?  And then – listen.”

If your child is worried about a new environment, visit the school.  If making new friends is stressful, role play with your child.

There are some cases where a child’s anxiety is considered more serious.

“Sometimes they’ll want to avoid the situation altogether or in some cases they’re so anxious they won’t speak,” said Schwartzbein. “If that persists more than a month it’s time to speak with professionals in the school.”

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