The start of a new school year is an exciting time, but for many children and young people, returning to school after a long break can be stressful. With the start of the academic year comes a host of new routines, challenges, and anxieties.

Some students are more prone to back-to-school anxiety than others, particularly if they’re moving to a new school or have an exam ridden year ahead.

It’s normal for parents to feel anxious too. You’ll need to support your child in their new environment and adapt to a new schedule.

Here, we’ll provide some useful tips to help you tackle your child’s back-to-school anxiety.

Signs of back-to-school anxiety

But first, how can you tell if your child is suffering from back-to-school anxiety? Whilst young people may express anxiety in different ways, here are some general symptoms to look out for in the weeks leading up to the beginning of term:

An anxious mother worried about her withdrawn teenage girl.

Tackling back-to-school anxiety

If you think your child is suffering from back-to-school anxiety, it can be difficult to know how best to support them. As a parent, there are a number of things you can do to help ease their worries.

1. Talk to your child

You can’t help your child if you don’t fully understand how they’re feeling. Sit down with them and encourage them to share their concerns.

Are they worried about something in particular (e.g. starting a new class, making new friends, or exam pressures) or are they suffering from a more generalised anxiety? Reassure your child that back-to-school anxiety is common, but equally acknowledge their emotions.

Together, talk through different scenarios and come up with ways of dealing with them. For example, if they’re worried about upcoming exams, discuss the steps they can take to ensure that they are prepared and keep on top of their work from the beginning of term. If they’re concerned they won’t make friends, help them come up with conversation starters to get talking.

Encourage them to spot negative thinking patterns and explore ways in which they can deal with them. Are their thoughts realistic or are they catastrophising? Help them to reframe their thoughts. For example, in response to “I’m going to fail my GCSEs”, you could say “You’ve done well in exams before and with hard work, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t succeed”.

A parent comforting their child who is anxious about going back-to-school.

2. Model healthy ways of dealing with anxiety

Think carefully about the type of behaviour you’re modelling for your child. If you’re stressing about all of the things that need to be done before the new term begins, then it’s no surprise if your child starts displaying signs of school-related anxiety.

Be aware of the language you use around your child and, although it can be difficult, try to use more positive self-talk.

3. Get in a routine

A couple of weeks before the start of term, try to reinstate school routines. Regular routines often go out of the window during the holidays, so re-establishing them now will ease both your and your child’s transition from ‘summer holiday mode’ to term-time routine.

Encourage your child to head to bed earlier and at the same time each night. Similarly, wake them up at the same time every morning and try to create a more structured meal schedule.

4. Prepare for the start of school

Your child will feel more confident returning to school if they feel prepared.

A few days before the start of term, help them to organise their school uniform, school bag, and pencil case. There’s nothing worse than last-minute rummaging around the house for a calculator or pencils! Or, finding out that their school uniform no longer fits!

A girl packing her school backpack.

If they have summer school work to complete, now’s the time to do so. If they’re going into Year 11 or 13, encouraging them to briefly read over last year’s notes may help them get back into the swing of studying. If you think they would benefit from more structured support then our GCSE and A Level Refresher courses are a great way to get ahead with the new school year.

5. Catch up with friends

Encourage your child to meet up and reconnect with friends before heading back to school. Your child may be so focused on their worries that they forget the positive aspects of school life. Meeting up with friends enables them to make plans and get excited about the term ahead.

Their friends may also be feeling a similar way and meeting up will provide them with an opportunity to talk through any worries they may have with others in the same boat. There’s only so much you, as a parent, can say to alleviate your child’s worries, and you might be surprised how beneficial a chat with their friends can be.

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As the new school year approaches, it’s normal for your child to experience some back-to-school anxiety. By recognising the signs of anxiety, engaging in open conversations, modelling healthy coping mechanisms, and gradually re-establishing routines, you lay the foundation for a smoother transition.

If you’re concerned that your child’s back-to-school anxiety is severely impacting their day-to-day life, then let someone know. You can reach out to their school who can provide additional advice and support. You may also want to seek help from your child’s GP.

Frustrated that your teenager seems to spend more time under the covers than out of them? Teenagers often get bad press for oversleeping and staying in bed past noon, and this can be a common cause of family conflict. However, maybe you should leave them to doze.

Read on to find out why adequate sleep is vital during adolescence and how you can ensure your teen gets a good night’s rest.

The sleep cycle

Let’s begin by looking at the sleep cycle: what happens at each stage and why is it so important?

The sleep cycle is made up of four stages. The first three stages form non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and the fourth forms rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During a typical night’s sleep, you’ll cycle through each of these stages numerous times.

Stages of the sleep cycle

The four stages of sleep: (1) falling asleep; (2) light non-REM sleep; (3) deep non-REM sleep; and (4) REM sleep.

SleepScore: The four stages of sleep.

Why is sleep so important for teenagers?

Looking at the stages of the sleep cycle, it’s clear that sleep plays a crucial role in both physical and mental rejuvenation. Sleep is especially important for teenagers as they are undergoing profound developmental and emotional changes.

Quality sleep in teens promotes:

With the onset of physical changes during puberty, the trials and tribulations of teenage friendships, and the pressures of school examinations, your teen already has a lot to contend with. A poor sleep routine on top of this will exacerbate any problems your teen is already facing and inevitably cause them to struggle.

How much sleep should your teenager get?

The recommended amount of sleep for teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 is 8 to 10 hours per night, although some will require more or less than others.

However, many teens fall short of this, for any one of a number of reasons:

A tired teenage boy eating breakfast.

How can you help improve your teenager’s sleep?

If your teenager is to get a great night’s sleep, then they need to develop good sleep habits. Try out the following tips to help your teen establish a consistent sleep routine:

It’s entirely natural (and necessary!) for teenagers to spend more time in bed than the average adult. However, if you’ve tried out these tips and are still concerned that your teen’s sleeping habits are having a significant impact on their day-to-day life, reach out to their GP for additional advice and support.

Throughout my teaching career I have experienced great job satisfaction and fulfilment. Teaching has allowed me the opportunity to create positive change, to instil a love for learning, and to help foster a sense of self-worth, self-belief, and resilience in my pupils.

However, I have also experienced episodes of emotional and physical exhaustion, or ‘burnout’, due to periods of sustained stress, excessive demands, and increasing workload. Throughout my thirty years of service, the profession has changed dramatically, and almost one third of teachers who qualified in the last decade have subsequently left.

As teachers, much of our energy is focused on the needs of our students. But if we are to perform effectively, then we need to prioritise our own self-care. Being aware of potential signs of burnout will enable us to take preventive measures to protect and manage our own mental health.

What is occupational burnout?

Occupational burnout is the result of long term chronic stress in the workplace which negatively impacts physical, mental, and emotional health. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly common in the teaching profession and has led to many dedicated teachers deciding to leave and pursue alternative careers. According to the 2022 Teacher Wellbeing Index:

Yes, teaching can be a wonderful and rewarding career, but the excessive workload, accountability pressures, and ever-shifting expectations can often make it feel a thankless and draining task.

A burnt out school teacher with his head on the desk.

Recognising the signs of burnout

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process, with many of the symptoms often mistaken for anxiety. Unless addressed, burnout can have severe impacts on both physical and mental health.

Signs you may be experiencing burnout:

Taking action to avoid or manage burnout

Once we recognise and understand the signs of burnout, we can be proactive and put in place simple measures to avoid or manage it.

1. Develop a good work-life balance

First things first, set clear boundaries between school and home life.

During school hours, try to implement time-saving strategies such as live-marking, which will not only reduce your evening workload, but will increase the quality of feedback to students. If you must bring marking home, set aside designated relaxation time. It’s all too easy to let marking or planning take over an evening or an entire weekend.

I can remember spending whole weekends sitting in front of the computer while my husband took the kids to gymnastics and the park. By Sunday evening, I felt exhausted and guilty for not having spent time with my family. And then the emails would start rolling in about the upcoming week’s schedule…

A teacher’s ‘to-do list’ is never ending, but it’s vital to set aside time to relax and unwind. If possible, try to finish work at the same time every day. Have a cut off point (say 7:30 pm) after which exercise books are closed, emails are muted, and school talk is forbidden!

A good work-life balance also includes taking proper lunch breaks (rather than mindlessly eating a sandwich whilst marking books).

Over-the-shoulder view of a woman holding a TV remote and surfing for television programmes.

2. Don’t strive for perfection

This ties in with the previous point. There will always be a myriad of tasks to accomplish, so the key is to prioritise what is the most important and what can wait.

If you’re a perfectionist like me, it’s tempting to spend an entire afternoon writing an hour-long lesson plan, or hours after school creating elaborate classroom displays. I’ve come to realise that perfection simply isn’t feasible in teaching, and it’s okay to aim for ‘good enough’.

3. Learn to say no

Learning to say no is more difficult than it sounds and many teachers struggle with setting boundaries. However, it’s an important skill to develop and will prevent you from overcommitting yourself.

Know your priorities and be realistic about what additional demands you can meet. It might not go down well if you say no to teaching your class, but it is entirely reasonable to say no to extra duties such as lunch break pupil supervision!

4. Support network

Having a support network in place at work, whether it be a trusted colleague or a mix of school staff, can be a real lifesaver when you’re in need of emotional support.

They’ll understand the pressures of the job and be able to relate to any challenges you’re facing, offering a fresh perspective when you’re struggling, feeling frustrated, or just needing a sounding board.

You may have a very understanding partner or great group of friends, but there are only so many times they’ll want to hear you ranting about your workload or disengaged students!

Two teachers chatting and catching up while standing at a printer in the school corridor.

5. Check in on your own mental health

Don’t forget to routinely check in on your own mental health. How are you feeling today? Is there anything worrying you? Are things starting to get on top of you? Do you need to reach out to someone for some extra support?

And remember to pay attention to your physical health. Adopting healthy living habits, such as taking regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and maintaining good sleep hygiene, will not only benefit you physically, but also mentally.

It’s all too common for teachers to experience episodes of emotional or physical exhaustion at some point in their career. If you recognise the signs of burnout in yourself (or one of your colleagues) be proactive, seek support, and take action to stop it in its tracks.

Switch on your TV or radio, or scroll through your social media feed, and you’ll increasingly come across news stories, articles, or posts about the rise in prevalence of mental health issues among students.

Whether it be the result of social pressures, academic demands, fear or failure, or uncertainty about the future, low self-esteem (and the accompanying anxiety) can be debilitating.

Supporting a child with anxiety can be daunting, but there are many ways in which you can promote your child’s mental well-being. As a parent, here are some of my tried and tested tips for fostering self-belief in your child.

Encourage a growth mindset

Help your child to develop effective learning strategies. Instead of focusing on an outcome (e.g. praising good results) or purely on effort (e.g. you tried so hard…) encourage your child to develop a growth mindset.

Focus on the learning process and encourage your child to view challenges in a positive light. If your child is disappointed with an exam result, for example, ask questions such as:

A growth mindset recognises failure as a fundamental part of any learning experience. It will enable your child to develop greater resilience and to ‘bounce back’ more quickly after setbacks.

Persistence, increased effort, and a willingness to try different strategies will lead to greater academic performance, as well as improved mental health.

A red arrow points down to represent a fixed mindset. A green arrow points up to represent a growth mindset.

Let your child make mistakes 

As a parent, it’s natural to want to support and protect your child. However, it’s equally important to give your child the opportunity to reflect on and learn from their own mistakes.

It’s all too easy to take over and try to fix potential problems − but by acting in this way, you’re actually doing your child a disservice. They need the opportunity to develop their coping strategies and resilience.

By all means provide your child with guidance and reassurance but encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and to find their own solutions.

Listen to and value what they have to say

If your child is feeling stressed or upset, be open and available to talk. Listen to what they have to say and try to be accepting of their feelings.

Rather than telling them that “everything will be alright” − which may inadvertently come across as dismissive − repeat their concerns and explain that it’s natural for them to sometimes feel this way. Be careful, however, not to empower their anxieties.

Be empathetic and encourage them to face their fears. Just talking through different scenarios together and coming up with different outcomes can help your child to manage their anxiety. For example, if they are worried about an upcoming class test, discuss the steps they can take to alleviate their worries, such as making a revision timetable or asking their teacher for extra support.

Dad and daughter sitting on a couch chatting.

Establish a self-care routine

It’s a well-established fact that the benefits of a self-care routine are crucial to both physical and mental well-being. Encourage your child to establish a routine which may include:

Of course, this is easier said than done − but even implementing one or two self-care steps will be beneficial.

Model healthy ways of dealing with anxiety

Think carefully about the type of behaviour you’re modelling for your child. A parent who is constantly stressed and fearful will inadvertently transmit such negative behaviours.

Try to implement positive thinking and practical strategies to help manage your stress. If your car won’t start on a Monday morning, rather than ranting and raving, step back from the situation, take a breath, and call your local garage. If your child sees you calmly working through a problem and not letting stress take over, they will mimic this behaviour in their own life. Be more aware of the language you use around your child.

Do you find yourself saying “I can’t cope with…” or “I’m not very good at…”? If so, try to include more positive self-talk.

A stressed and anxious mother sitting on her sofa.

Create a safe home environment 

Having an area of the home to which your child can safely retreat at the end of the school day is important for their mental well-being, allowing them the space to recharge and de-stress. However, providing a calm and relaxed home environment where your child feels confident talking through their worries is equally, if not more, important.

It’s common for children to experience periods of low self-esteem and it can be difficult for you as a parent to know how best to support them.

There’s a fine balance between providing emotional support and allowing them the opportunity to make their own choices.

If you’re concerned that your child’s anxiety or low self-esteem is impacting their day-to-day life, then perhaps it’s worth reaching out to their school or your GP.