Back to school. Those three words are exciting for many students. But for other students, those words bring up feelings of discomfort and anxiety. You may remember what it was like a few days before the new school year started. New supplies of book bags, pens, pencils, and paper. Wanting to see friends after several months, anticipating your new teachers, subjects, and being more mature and having more status.

Yet some students do not have these same positive feelings. Many students struggle with the new school year upon them. They may have had a bad experience with a teacher the year before. Their peer group could have broken down over an insensitive social media post. Worst of all, they may have a constant bully who makes their life miserable. The anticipation of bad experiences brings on debilitating feelings of anxiousness, depression, and isolation.

Adults can see these feelings reflected in students’ actions of withdrawal, silence, avoidance, anger, or even defiance. It’s important to understand that your first interactions with a student are imperative. If you sense the student is struggling or is displaying atypical behaviors, let them know they have your
support and that you are there to help.

What Educators Can Do to Help with Back to School Anxiety

The number of students who experience back-to-school anxiety (BTSA) is growing. As school staff, we can help our students settle into the new school year comfortably with positive experiences rather than negative ones. Here are ten strategies educators can implement to help students crush BTSA.

  1. Encourage the students and parents to attend your school’s Open House or “Meet the Teacher” event. If your school year has yet to start, the administration must advertise the importance of Open House or Meet the Teacher events. When students establish a relationship with their teachers, they feel more at ease, leading to academic success. Also, if they are entering middle school or high school, touring the school helps them become comfortable with their new environment.
  2. Promote school clubs and activities. Promoting clubs during the Open House or within the first few weeks of school is an excellent way for students to become involved. For students at a large school, joining a club of interest helps them connect with like-minded students. It’s easier to form friendships over a shared interest in a small group than trying to find those same connections in hundreds or even thousands of students. You can also encourage students to start a club if they are still looking for one they are in tune with.
  3. Lunch groups. School staff can work together and form lunch groups for students who need to establish peer groups. Lunch is one of the most intimidating situations for students. No one wants to look like they do not have any friends or look weird. Having a set place to conduct these groups will help students get used to navigating lunchtime. A helpful strategy is to have these groups led by other students (peer leaders). Adults can oversee the groups, but sitting with an adult can look embarrassing for some.
  4. Address how to deal with bullying. Bullying takes on many forms, from spreading rumors to physical contact. If a student has experienced bullying in the past few years, they may have a deep fear of entering the school building. It helps to have classroom lessons (in health class or a guidance lesson by counselors) on dealing with bullying and who to go to for help.
  5. Pet Therapy. One of the best things introduced to schools is pet therapy. Anxiety melts away almost instantly when students are offered the chance to cozy up with a furry friend. The student is filled with new energy from this simple contact. Many schools bring in pets the week before or during testing as these are high-stress times. The American Kennel Society has a comprehensive list of dog therapy organizations that can help schools set up these healing events.
  6. Expectations of middle school/Expectations of high school. Many schools do a terrific job sending newsletters before and throughout the school year. The jump from middle school to high school is scary for some students. The importance of grades and keeping up with their studies is enough to build negative anticipations. Newsletters give parents information for helping their students succeed and resources for mental health.
  7. Lessons about the use of social media. Social media helps connect people, but it does have a downside. Students (and people in general) compare themselves to what they see online and develop feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and depression. Cyberbullying also occurs on social media, another layer of harassment that can destroy a student’s confidence. Having lessons on the dangers of social and how to navigate new technology can help students separate what is real and what is not.
  8. Developing a routine for school (studying, sleeping). Another strategy that can be put in a newsletter is ensuring students have good habits. Though structure can seem negative or constraining, it allows for freedom. If students can understand this, they will experience much success and happiness. Having a set time to put down their phone, or video games, going to bed at a decent time, waking up on time, eating breakfast, and drinking water can help start their day on a positive note.
  9. Strategies for coping with anxiety. Students can be taught coping strategies like breathing exercises, and things that can ground them. Technology is not all bad, and there are apps available that are designed to deal with stress specifically. Having a trusted adult in the building to talk to, meeting with counselors, and small group support sessions with other students during advisory/flex time and practicing coping skills are also great resources for students who experience high anxiety at the beginning or during the school year.
  10. Inform the school counselor. If you have a student who refuses to attend class or has an emotional breakdown in the hallway, take them to their school counselor. Many counseling offices have a “sensory” room where students can sit to regulate their extreme states. Some counselors have blue overhead light filters in their offices, sensory glitter bottles, and fidget toys to help students re-adjust. These tools also allow students to talk about what they are experiencing. Lastly, have some cool water and snacks for them (chocolate rocks!).

Extra Support

Counselors can also reach out to the parents with additional resources for therapy if it comes to that. Some students have a diagnosis of generalized, social, or separation anxiety. If so, advise parents to speak with the counselor about a 504. A 504 plan allows for specific accommodations to help the student manage their diagnosis for success in school. Specific accommodations could include frequent breaks in their school day, extended test time, and preferential seating.


Many of the problems students face today are the same as the ones from 10, 20, 30, and even 100 years ago. Bullying is nothing new. There have always been personalities that thrive on dominating others. But, students today do have new and intense challenges to deal with. Social media has allowed for another means for people to attack one another. And the pandemic reminded everyone that anything could happen at any time. That’s enough to bring anxiety to anyone.

We want to protect our students as much as possible. But as Dory told Marlin in “Finding Nemo,” “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him; then nothing would ever happen to him.” Things will happen to our students, and we must help them through it. And the best way to do this is by giving them tools and strategies to face challenges directly and confidently.