Is it normal back-to-school jitters or something more serious?
For most New Jersey children, back to school is next week.
Whether they are starting school for the first time, or just starting a new year, the end of summer and beginning of school can trigger some jitters.
Fear of the unknown is the main source of such anxiety, said Ashley Morolla, program manager and crisis and trauma specialist at Care Plus NJ.
New classmates or those kids they haven’t seen all summer, as well as new teachers, a new school, or an unfamiliar schedule, can all be overwhelming, Morolla said.
The good news is that most of these jitters disappear after a couple of weeks into the new school year, as kids get adjusted to their schedule, teachers, classes, and activities.
But if school avoidance and changes in behavior persist for more than a couple of weeks, it is vital for parents to seek mental health support for their child to address any potential underlying issues, she said.
What is typical of child development?
For youth, a lot of things that are typical parts of development are wanting to hang out with their friends more than their family, Morolla said. Changing their interests is another typical development. Many kids go from playing with dolls and Legos to playing video games or basketball down at the local park.
When should parents be concerned?
Morolla said if the child is isolating themselves from everyone, not talking to friends, or family, or not coming out of their room for dinner, should all raise a red flag.
If they are not replacing old interests or hobbies with newer, age-appropriate ones, or if they are losing interest altogether in activities that normally bring them joy or happiness is another big concern, she said.
If, after a couple of weeks into the school year, a child is still scared and fearful, and those feelings are impacting everyday routines, that can certainly put a detriment on multiple domains in their life.
“Usually, we would see kids getting over those first-time jitters or challenges and have a successful school year,” Morolla said.
What can parents do to ease those normal back-to-school jitters?
Morolla suggested parents drive by the school with their children. Let them spend time on the school property. Show them around, and let them see the playground, the bus platform, and the surrounding area.
Call the school and ask if they can come by with their child so they can tour the building and let them familiarize themselves with their new classroom, the hallways, the gym, the lunchroom, the library, and other important rooms.
Show the child where the nurse’s office and the school counselor’s office are located in the school. In the event, they don’t feel well or if they have other questions, they’ll know the right person to address.
Morolla said giving them the tools and prepping them are very helpful in allowing children to get over those first-day jitters and concerns.
For older kids, have them familiarize themselves with their new schedule. Let them find where their classrooms may be and where their locker is located, she added.
Parents should validate their children’s worries, fears, and concerns. But Morolla said talking to them and preparing them as much as possible will help ease those feelings.
What can parents do to ease feelings that are much more serious than jitters?
When these jitters continue for longer than two weeks and they are impacting a child’s mood and overall function, Morolla said it’s time for parents to tap into school resources. Call the school counselor and share concerns with them. Call a mental health agency or utilize “Perform Care.”
Morolla said families often utilize what is called “Children’s Mobile.” This is a crisis intervention program that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They will come out within an hour to 24 hours of the phone call the family makes.
They even offer remote services.
They’ll address and assess the current situation going on with the child and offer whatever resources they can to meet that family’s needs.
“It’s important for families to know that the resources are out there. The schools are really doing their best to provide as many resources as possible. Agencies like Care Plus, provide free training, and some fee-for-service to schools and communities, and sometimes families, about mental health awareness and all this great information that can help get families linked to the right resources that they need,” Morolla said.