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What parents can do to help with back to school anxiety

We all feel anxiety from time to time, and so do kids, especially heading into a new school year.

MINNEAPOLIS — Anxiety, we all feel it from time to time, so do kids, especially heading into a new school year.

Hennepin Healthcare Pediatrician Hannah Lichtsinn says a lot of that anxiety comes from the fact that kids have very little, if any, control over their lives.

They're told where and when to go school, who will teach them, who they'll be around and what they need to learn.

"The school year brings with it several unknowns for kids,” Lichtsinn says.

She says it's sort of like an adult going back to work after a long vacation and finding out your entire work environment has changed.

"You're going to have a whole new team of colleagues and different bosses and different expectations than you've ever had before, that would be intimidating and that's what our kids are going through right now,” Lichtsinn says.

Parents should keep an eye out for the classic warning signs that kids may be struggling with anxiety.

"The common things I think about are going to be headaches, upset stomach, trouble with sleep, and then just general crankiness,” Lichtsinn says.

Parents can help their kids by simply starting up a conversation about the upcoming school year, but Lichtsinn says parents should avoid guessing what their kids are worried about.

"We don't want to create fear and anxiety where there isn't any already,” Lichtsinn says.

She recommends letting the kid do most of the talking so they can guide the conversation. 

She says some of the common reasons why a younger child might be anxious about the new school year include being anxious about going to a new school, being away from their parents, or riding the school bus for the first time.

She says older kids are usually more worried about social issues, like who their friends will be, where they will sit during lunch, and will they fit in.

A great tool for parents is a routine.

Lichtsinn recommends starting that routine now so the kids can get use it before the first day of school.

"Kids do really well with structure from a very young age, even through adolescence. So, making sure kids know what that structure will look like,” Lichtsinn says.

Doctors say some kids may carry that anxiety with them throughout the whole school year.

In those cases, they say it might be helpful to reach out to a doctor or specialist who can teach your child coping techniques to deal with their anxiety.

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