Skip to content

Spotting Troubling “Back to School” Behaviors Understanding and Managing Your Child’s Warning Signs of Stress

September 9, 2013
Children and Teens / Mental Health
“Staff Tips and Strategies” and a drawing of a family in green

Leslie Kessler, LCSW-C, LICSW, Clinical Social Worker and Synagogue Liaison and Deborah Goldstein, LCSW-C, Clinical Director

As the new academic school year approaches so do many changes for children – perhaps cursive instead of printing, seven teachers instead of one, new classmates, maybe a new school. Adults’ expectations of students also rise each year as children advance to higher grade levels. Some students greet these changes with excitement; others find it unsettling.

Children may exhibit various signs that they are struggling such as…trouble getting to school on time…chronically procrastinating on homework or disrupting their classes. These might be normal back to school reactions your child experiences every year. But if not…carefully observe the behavior patterns and consider how experiences in your child’s or family’s life may be causing them. Look for persistent behaviors that are unusual for your child such as:

  • Sleeping Difficulties: Trouble falling asleep at night, waking in the morning, or frequently wakening during the night
  • Acting Out: Younger children may hit or kick. Older ones may use profanity or engage in risky behaviors.
  • Eating Changes: Either reduced or increased appetite
  • Physical Symptoms: Stomachaches or headaches that are not due to a medical illness
  • Irritability: Increased sensitivity, crying easily and often
  • Withdrawal: Avoiding friends or activities that were previously enjoyable, or sitting on the sidelines at recess
  • Frequent School Health Room Visits or Calls to a Parent: This may indicate your child’s desire to talk with someone or avoid something during the school day.
  • Any Radically New Behavior: Anything your child has never done before, even at other stressful times

The reasons for these behaviors may be diverse. For instance, physical problems such as allergies, an ongoing ear infection or other ailments may cause your child to be distractible, irritable and withdrawn. Overscheduling when school and extracurriculars start up may create increased pressure. Children may even detect and adopt your own daily frustrations with demands such as morning routines, carpool duties and supervising homework.

As you look for explanations, talk to your child and to his/her teachers.

Ask your child specific questions. Take time to really listen to the answers. Find out who your daughter played with and what they did at recess. Ask what your son likes best and least about school. Children’s responses may indicate concerns with peer relationships, academics, or other issues.

Talk to the teachers. Find out if behaviors at home are surfacing at school. Let the teacher know the reason for your concern and the behaviors your child is exhibiting at home. If the child is acting out at school, explore what triggers the negative behavior: Is your child bored, over-challenged, or distracted? Perhaps he/she needs more structure? Your child may be troubled by bullying or may need help strengthening social skills.