As the end of summer approaches, the stress of starting a new school year rises. It’s common for parents and children to feel some stress with anticipation of a new school year. For others, they may feel dread given how badly last year went.

For many kids, the 2022-23 academic year was more difficult than any other.

Students missed out on 35% of what they should have learned when schools closed early in the pandemic, and they’ve been largely unable to catch up. Last year, many students struggled because the lessons were too advanced for them and educators and parents had to make tough decisions about if children should be passed or retained. Families with low incomes and communities of color were disproportionately affected, because their schools spent more time in remote learning and had fewer resources (such as internet, space to work, and an adult to help).

With more students struggling, there have been more classroom disruptions. Some students who don’t understand the material may act out to be sent out of class.

In addition, school attendance is down, with twice as many students chronically absent. Some with social anxiety may be avoiding school. Others might rather stay home than feel lost academically.

Anxiety and depression levels were rising before the pandemic. When schools closed, mental health concerns among students worsened, and they haven’t improved. Children are struggling to build relationships with others, which may leave them feeling isolated and stressed.

If last year was difficult for your child, these ideas may help you prepare them for a better year:

  • As soon as you can, start talking about the upcoming year. Ask your child what worked well last year and what was challenging using the conversation starters you can download below.
  • Help your child establish routines. Develop the plan of action together, with their input. They’ll be more likely to follow through if they help create the plan.
  • If your child needs extra help, look for a tutor or academic specialist. See if your public library or students in high school clubs and organizations offer free tutoring. Your school counselor may be able to point you toward resources.
  • Let your child know that you want to help when they’re struggling. Some kids hesitate to tell their caregiver that they’re having trouble because they think they’ll disappoint their family or get punished. Create an open dialogue to problem-solve together.
  • Contact your child’s new teacher before school begins, and stay in touch. Let them know what your child struggled with last year and what might help them succeed this year.
  • Praise your child’s efforts to do better. This might be acknowledging them trying more with their homework or organization. Show them that you’ve noticed their improvements, even if they haven’t met their goals yet.
  • Find activities outside of school where your child can have positive experiences and build connections. Some kids thrive on sports teams or in clubs or religious groups.

When Should I Be Concerned?

Visit your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional if your child’s anxiety or stress levels seem dramatically different when you talk about school. It’s normal for kids to complain when summer is about to end, but if their overall outlook changes, they may need to see someone.

A challenging school year can be hard for kids to know how to overcome. Talking with your child can help both of you to come up with a plan for moving forward.

Ready to start talking to your child about a tough school year? Download these conversation starters to help you know what to ask and how.


Troubled Year Convo Starters