Back to school anxiety: It’s more than just butterflies

Back to school anxiety: Survey reveals it’s more than just butterflies

25% of 11-12 year olds are worried about bullying, and 1/3 of children can’t sleep before the first day back


 Think back to your first day of school – can you remember how it felt to put on your uniform, grab your lunchbox, and wave goodbye before heading into the classroom?


What about the parent who waved back – how did they feel?


Heading back to school is one of the most exciting times in a child’s life – but it’s also one of the most stressful, for both them and their parents. When you look at the challenges that are wrapped up in the current culture, from cyber-bullying to exams, it’s not surprising that kids and their parents feel apprehensive about the start of the school year.


We surveyed mums and dads across the UK to find out just how prevalent back to school anxiety is, and what specific things seem to trigger both their kids’ nerves, and their own.


The lead up to school: 1 month before


During the summer holidays, the first day of school can seem like a distant prospect that feels like it’ll never arrive. However, that’s not the case for everyone.


According to our survey, lots of children are already thinking about going back to school long before they’re due to step into the classroom. Many are comfortable with the notion – 1 in 4 are enthusiastic and relaxed a month before starting school. However, 19% already feel anxious at this time.


Boys are more likely to feel calm about starting school, whereas girls seem to report greater feelings of excitement.


Closer to the classroom: 1 week before


As the first day of school becomes a bit more of a reality, it seems that children’s feelings begin to change. 40% of parents say they notice a significant change in their child’s behaviour in the week leading up to the first day of school.


This is especially the case for 11-12-year olds, with 43% showing a noticeable shift. For many, this will be first day of high school, and so the change could be a reflection of the nerves that come along with such a big stepping stone.


Counting down the days before starting school


As the first day of school draws nearer, emotions begin to rise to the surface. According to our survey, there’s a mix of positive and apprehensive feelings: 1 in 5 children become anxious in the week before starting school, while 1 in 4 feel enthusiastic.


The night before the big day can be a challenge for most parents, as they scramble to make sure that uniforms still fit and school supplies are packed.


Children seem to feel the pressure as well – 35% have a hard time sleeping the night before the first day of school, with 8-10 year olds as the most likely to find it hard to nod off. Unsurprisingly, the struggle to sleep isn’t just a coincidence – 70% say it’s because their kids are anxious, nervous, or worried about starting school.


The morning of the first day of school


Getting back into the term-time routine can feel like a shock to the system for everyone. Over 70% of parents report feeling stressed about getting their kids ready and through the classroom door, with 7am-8am being the most stressful time period.


Children also seem to feel the pressure, and some react by backing out of breakfast – almost 1/4 refuse to eat, with 11-12 year olds being the most likely age group to push away their cereal. Again, parents believe it’s closely connected to the first-day nerves: 77% say their children skip breakfast due to anxiety and worry.


For some, the difficulty doesn’t end at the breakfast table – some parents have a hard time getting their kids out the front door. 28% of children have asked not to attend the first day of school, with their reasons most likely being anxiety and nervousness, not wanting to leave their mum or dad, and being apprehensive about not having friends.


The top worries for kids


Parents believe the most common reasons for worrying about school are connected to their kids’ social circles. 1 in 4 think their child worries that they won’t have friends when they go back to school, and 1 in 5 parents believe their child is most worried they won’t fit in.


Though unpleasant, these are all very natural reactions to heading back into the classroom. What’s even more concerning is that 25% of 11-12 year olds say they ask to stay home because they’re worried about bullying.


Guess what? Parents worry too!


It’s not just the students that are apprehensive about the dawn of a new school year. 1 in 4 parents worry their child won’t have friends, while 1 in 5 parents are concerned that their kids will experience stress and bullying or cyberbullying.


What’s keeping parent’s awake at night?

While the kids are tossing and turning before the big day, there’s a good chance their parents are too. 31% of parents struggle to sleep the night before their child’s first day of school, with 70% attributing it to anxiety and worry. It seems the transition to high school affects everyone, as parents of 11-12-year olds are the mums and dads who are most likely to struggle to sleep.  


While the emotions leading up to the school year are complicated, there’s no doubt that most parents and children feel at least a little bit of worry and anxiety about walking back into the classroom. Activities such as dance are a great way for kids to express themselves, make friends, and channel their emotions. And it works the exact same way for parents, too!


We spoke to Dr Victoria Khromova, child and adolescent psychiatrist, parent coach and founder of Emerging Parent who offered advice about how dancing can help to alleviate stress and anxiety that children may be feeling when heading back to school. “There are a lot of social benefits in dancing – it provides a sense of togetherness and belonging, and any dance that requires either dancing with a partner or with a group in a coordinated way will help children and young people develop a greater sensitivity to others as they will need to learn to pick up subtle cues in order to perform with synchronicity.


Teenage girls interviewed about dance describe six particular qualitative benefits: dance providing an oasis of calm away from the stresses of the outside world, a sense of supportive togetherness, experience of enjoyment and empowerment (as they master new physical skills), this also brings about an increased trust in their own ability and also a greater ability to accept themselves as they are. And lastly, they value the release brought about by creative expression, this is an innate higher need for all human beings.


The connection between the movement of the body, being focussed and creative is also likely to have benefits for children and young people with significant difficulties. We are increasingly starting to understand how important movement is for treating the stress which follows significant trauma and dance is a way of using your body and embodying your feelings.”


It all starts by finding the right dancewear – while you can’t quite dance away your worries, it can go a long way to help.