5 Ways For Parents to Manage Back-to-School Anxiety

It looks a little different this year. But you’ll get through it.

An author dad explains how our anxiety may be hurting our kids–and how to prevent it.

Can we stop for a moment and acknowledge something? Up until a few weeks ago, we were cruising towards what seemed like a “normal” school year, at least more normal than what we’ve experienced in the last 18 months. If you’re like me and my wife, we were silently saying Hallelujah with each passing day.

Thanks to the delta variant, COVID-19 began surging again and now “back-to-school” could look more like “back-to-homeschool” for many families. Or, if not, at least that sense of “normalcy” you thought you were getting is gone or teetering on the edge of the cliff like a packed clown car.

With all of that uncertainty and change comes a lot of anxiety. Even if you haven’t written a book on having clinical anxiety like me, chances are you’re worried–especially since you didn’t really see this coming. I want to offer you some tips on how you can manage that anxiety, as well as some practical ways to move forward this school year.

1. Admit you can’t be perfect.

Last year, my 5-year-old daughter started the year in virtual kindergarten. Having never parented a child in school before already had us stressed out. On top of that, we had to do it all without ever meeting her teacher. Needless to say, we were a wreck. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do everything right, to meet every deadline, to have my daughter log into every Zoom call and to never be late. Guess what: it wasn’t possible. We learned quickly that we couldn’t “nail it” every minute of every day, especially as we worked remotely. Once we gave ourselves permission to be imperfect, our stress levels significantly decreased.

I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be–and you can’t be–perfect. Even though we didn’t make every Zoom call and even though we didn’t complete every virtual assignment, our daughter still passed kindergarten at or above every expected level. It will be OK.

2. Realize you can’t control everything.

As someone with diagnosed anxiety and OCD, one of the things I want to do is be in control; sometimes it’s all I can think about. My disorder tells me I can be. Reality tells me I can’t be. Let me sum up some of the best counseling I ever received: You are not able to control everything. (I paid a lot of money for that, but I’m giving it to you for free.) You can’t control if someone in your kid’s class gets COVID-19, or if their mom, dad, brother, sister or dog tests positive. (If you find a way to do so, let me know.) I’m begging you, for your sake and your child’s sake, to live in that freedom. Your mental health will be a lot more, well, healthy if you do. There’s no use in grasping at something that can never be in your hands.

3. Take the easy wins.

There’s a song in Frozen 2 that I think is one of the deepest, most profound Disney songs ever written. It’s called, “The Next Right Thing.” Friend, sometimes that’s all you can do. Sometimes that’s all you should do. When life and school feel out of control, focus on what you can control. Can you get your child on for their first Zoom session? Great! Not sure about the afternoon one? Then be unsure about the afternoon one. Can you get your child to school today? Great! Not sure about tomorrow? Then be unsure about tomorrow. Take a series of tiny steps. Do the next right thing, one thing at a time.

4. Invest in yourself.

I remember one morning when we were about to miss my daughter’s first Zoom session of the day because we couldn’t find her iPad. I became frantic and frenetic. By the time we found it, we were late and I was rushing to get her logged in. That’s when she looked up at me and said, “Daddy, you’re making me nervous.” Talk about a shot to the heart. Here’s the thing, while anxiety is genetic, it can also be learned. The more nervous and anxious you are, the more nervous and anxious your child will be. Parents, please take time for yourselves. Find a release that relaxes you and puts you in the right frame of mind. Maybe that’s an early morning walk or a massage once a month (yes, please!). I’ve learned that in order to address my deeper emotional issues, I first have to address the physical ones. Your mental well-being is important–invest in it.

5. Find community.

Listen, gobs of research have shown that we aren’t meant to live life alone. I also don’t think we are meant to parent alone. What I mean is that we need others to help us when we feel weak. It’s OK to be weak, by the way. My wife and I have found a tight-knit community within our church group. Just the other week, we were struggling to find rest and sanity while we were sick (not with COVID). Within minutes of sending out an S.O.S. text to our group asking if anyone could pick up the kids, they were at our front door. I’m not going to pretend that type of response is possible or feasible for everyone, but certainly, you can invest in a community that can help you shoulder the load. Know that it’s OK to ask for help.

The theme of the last nearly two years has been a sense of yearning for some precedented times. You and me both. Until then, though, we’re going to have to learn some new skills. I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone in learning them.

Think of it this way: This is your “walking uphill in the snow both ways to school” moment. You can and will get through this. And boy, will you have a story to tell. Keep going.

Jonathon M. Seidl (Jon) is the author of “Finding Rest: A Survivor’s Guide to Navigating the Valleys of Anxiety, Faith, and Life” (Sept. 28). He lives in Dallas with his wife and two kids. You can visit him at and follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jonseidl.


It looks a little different this year. But you’ll get through it.

An author dad explains how our anxiety may be hurting our kids–and how to prevent it.

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