school anxiety

Do Your Children Have Back to School Anxiety?

Did you know that anxiety issues are the most common mental health disorders in children? There are an estimated 18 million children and teens who suffer from anxiety. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 25 percent of teenagers have anxiety issues, and the statistics don’t consider the young people who are undiagnosed or don’t reach out for help. (credit Because the start of a new school year can trigger or worsen anxiety in stressed-out children and teens, I offer the following tips for parents to help ease back-to-school anxiety for their kids.

Start Early

Over the summer, most families take their cues from the sun and stay up later. While it may be tempting to keep the late-night fun going up until the end, starting your school routine a few weeks early can help ease the transition back to school. Starting two to three weeks before the advent of school, begin going to bed and getting up close to when you need to for school, and try to eat on a more regular schedule as well. This advice isn’t just for little kids — teens and adults need quality sleep for proper functioning, and getting your plan straight now will help ensure that you all start the school year off more prepared and don’t feel as much anxiety over the advent of that first day. 

Give your child a preview 

Talk to your child about what they will be doing in the upcoming school year. If your child is starting school for the first time, see if there’s a kindergarten orientation or a way to meet their teacher before school begins. Whether they’re starting a new elementary school or going back to the same one, go explore it with your child. Review where their class will be, visit the cafeteria, the library or the art room. Take them to the playground (with a friend who’ll be going to their school, if possible) to help them adjust and feel comfortable at the school. Give your child a “preview” of the new faces and places they’ll be seeing. This can help to “right size” the school in your child’s mind and remove the fear and mystery. 

Shopping together for school supplies 

Shopping together for school supplies, and using the shopping trip as a time to talk about what to expect at school, can be a healthy way to keep a child talking. Parents should also try to connect their child with future classmates. “f a child knows someone who is going to be in the same classroom, that can greatly reduce their apprehension and fear of the unknown. 

Facilitate friendships.

Help prepare kids for school-year socializing by arranging a couple of playdates with classmates and reminding them that they’ll be seeing their familiar school friends again soon. 

Promote the positives

Field trips, old friends, new classes, sporting events, after-school activities. There’s plenty to get fired up about! Remind your child and the enthusiasm will be contagious. 

Sick of School — Literally 

Nervousness over heading back to class can make kids feel sick. They may complain of stomachaches, headaches, nausea and dizziness, especially on Sunday evenings after feeling well all weekend. If you observe potential symptoms of stress as the start of school approaches, I suggest having a candid conversation with your child. Don’t just accept “fine” if you ask your child, “How are you?” or, “How was your day?” Ask questions that can’t be answered “yes” or “no,” like, “How do you feel about returning to school?” Then, let them talk, and don’t try to fix what they say. 

When anxiety about school “masks” something else

Kids of any age who don’t want to go to school, or who want to avoid it, may be doing so because of a specific issue beyond general anxiety, worry or depression. Children who are bullied or teased often become anxious about going to school, and if the problem is not addressed, the anxiety will continue along with a host of other problems. Similarly, children who are avoiding school may be doing so because school is hard for them.School anxiety often emerges just before a child is diagnosed with a learning difficulty.”

Sanam Hafeez Psy.D
New York State Licensed Neuropsychologist and Director of Comprehend The Mind
Sanam Hafeez Psy.D is a New York City based Neuropsychologist and School Psychologist.  She is also the founder and director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C. She is currently a teaching faculty member at Columbia University. Click here to see Dr. Hafeez on Dr.Oz:
Dr. Hafeez graduated from Queens College, CUNY with a BA in psychology. She then went on to earn her Master of Science in Psychology at Hofstra University. Following that she stayed at Hofstra to receive her Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) She later completed her post-doctoral training in Neuropsychology and Developmental Pediatrics at Coney Island Hospital.
Dr. Hafeez’s provides neuropsychological educational and developmental evaluations in her practice. She also works with children and adults who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), learning disabilities, autism, attention and memory problems, trauma and brain injury, abuse, childhood development and psychopathology (bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, etc…) In addition, Dr. Hafeez serves as a medical expert and expert witness by providing full evaluations and witness testimony to law firms and courts.
Dr. Hafeez immigrated to the United States from Pakistan when she was twelve years old. She is fluent in English, Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi (Pakistani and Indian languages.) She resides in Queens, New York with her husband and twin boys.
Honors and Publications:
–       April 2013 Main Speaker at Learning Disabilities Awareness Conference, New York City at Baruch College, CUNY
“Evaluating and Accommodating Students with Disabilities”
–       June 2008 Appointment to the New York City 18-B panel Assigned Counsel Plan
Appointed as a preferred and approved Neuropsychologist and Clinical Psychologist in the New York City Court System for low cost or pro bono criminal, civil and family law cases
–       January 2008 CUNY Proficiency Exam Waiver Position Paper
                                                Hafeez, S. (2008)
Commissioned by CUNY to advocate for the Learning Disabled population and the bias of the CUNY Assessment. 
Research based paper presented to the Board of CUNY Student Disabilities to waive requirement. 
–       1998-2000 Doctoral FellowshipHofstra University
*Awarded a stipend in exchange for a research assistant position with core faculty member
Clinical Experience:
Director and Founder February 2003-Present
Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services                                
  • Provide quality monolingual and bilingual psychological, educational, neuropsychological and speech and language evaluations
  • Early Intervention, Pre-School and School Age Special Education Services
  • Awarded a competitive contract through bidding with the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE)
  • Awarded an assessment and interpreting contract with Putnam-Westchester BOCES
  • Provide evaluations and services to college level students with educational disabilities
  • Also provide occupational and physical therapy evaluations as well as therapeutic services in all areas. 
  • Contract with school district and various agencies to provide evaluations and related services
  • Provide neuropsychological, psychological and forensic evaluations for legal purposes to individuals, law firms, agencies and courts
Teaching Experience:
Faculty Appointment September 2011-Present
Columbia University, Teacher’s College, New York, NY
PhD program in Psychology
  • Instruction of neuropsychological and cognitive testing measures (SB-5, WJ-III, WISC-IV, etc)
  • Supervision and training of graduate students for clinical testing at university clinic

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