Helping kids deal with back-to-school anxiety

Many schools are finally reopening their physical doors this fall. Here’s how to support children through yet another transition.

Allison Smith’s five- and nine-year-old sons are already anxious about the first day of school and seeing their pre-pandemic friends again. Although the boys chose a hybrid option in the spring, not all kids returned—and those who did had a far-from-typical experience.

“Because they haven’t been able to develop bonds over the last year, it’s almost like they’re starting with a brand-new set of kids,” says Smith, a special education administrator in Southern California. Her older son asks questions like, “Are they still going to be friends with me, or am I not going to have any friends?”

Smith’s sons are not alone. Following the CDC recommendation that schools prioritize reopening as soon as possible—now with guidelines for everyone to mask up—many districts are resuming full-time, in-person instruction this fall. (That includes Los Angeles and New York City, which boast the largest school districts in the United States.) The about-face from the unusual norms kids have been experiencing is enough to give them whiplash—and that means different iterations of back-to-school anxiety are playing out across the country.

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