Supporting young people going back to school or college

Supporting young people going back to school or college

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

As schools and colleges start to go back, it is normal to feel anxious. 

Some young people may be feeling nervous returning to a day to day routine following the summer break.

five young people sitting on steps outside


Can mean a break from the anxiety and stress of challenging peer relationships, academic and social pressures of school or college.

Why might young people be feeling anxious right now?

Some young people will have enjoyed the time to catch up on sleep, relax, engage in hobbies and hang out with friends outside the school environment.

For others it has meant a breather from anxiety-provoking experiences.

Summer holidays can mean a break from the anxiety and stress of challenging peer relationships, academic and social pressures of school or college.


It may take a bit of time for your young person to get back into the rhythm of day to day routines. Resting is essential for all of us. However, if we remain in our comfort zones for too long, we start to feel unable to deal with new situations. Not engaging in activities and social experiences can have a negative impact on confidence and self-esteem.

School leavers and movers

The transition from primary to secondary or finishing school is traditionally a time when anxiety levels can increase. Your young people may be moving into new and uncertain chapters without fully achieving closure on the previous one. Listening to your young persons concerns and worries is a great way of supporting your them as they learn to deal with changes in their lives.

Leaving Cert results

This year’s Leaving Cert results will be arriving late. This may add stress to an already stressful situation. It may affect your young persons ability to find accommodation and properly plan for the new year.There will be those who will be disappointed with their exam results, and it may fall to you to support them to stay motivated in challenging situations.


Acknowledge and normalise the worries that your young person is speaking to you about.

young person wearing jeans and trainers walking

What can I do to support a young person’s re-adjustment?

Here are some things which may be helpful for you to support your young person going back to school or college this year.

Empathy and compassion

Feeling stress and anxiety at this time is very understandable. Your young people’s concerns need to be heard and validated. Avoid diminishing the worries that a young person might come to talk to you about. Watch for inadvertently criticising the behaviours which may manifest as a result. Listen, acknowledge and normalise the concerns your young person has.

Gently challenge the worries

A common response to the discomfort of anxiety is avoidance. While understandable, try to not let this become an established habit. Anxiety is temporary, and it can be useful to remind our young people of this. It may feel uncomfortable, but it will pass.

Set small goals to help your young person begin to challenge the anxiety. Go out for short periods and build this up. Highlight strengths and provide encouragement. Read more about supporting young people with anxiety.

Modelling behaviour

Young people often look to parents’ behaviours and coping styles to develop their own ways of managing stress and anxiety. Be mindful of the language being used and how you yourself respond to anxiety.

If young people can observe the adults around them to be calm and rational, it can have a really positive effect. Model healthy self-care and coping strategies. Perhaps even invite your young person to join you where possible, like going for walks.

Help to contain the worries

Encourage openly communicating worries with you. But in some cases there is a danger that constant reassurance-seeking can have a negative impact with regard to self-management of anxiety. If you are continually reassuring, it can inadvertently justify fears and worries. It is therefore important to try to minimise the amount of time spent doing so.

Depending on the age of the young person, it might be helpful to set aside some specific ‘worry time’ when they can share worries with you. Outside of that, they are practicing self-management and developing their own capacity to cope.

Externalise the anxiety as something separate from the young person and perhaps even give it a name. This can be very effective in boosting a young person’s self-efficacy.

Scope out the school/college response

Schools and colleges are doing their best to start the new academic year in earnest and create the best study environment they can. Make sure you and your young person have familiarised yourself with their new environment.

These things may sound obvious but being as prepared as possible can help limit anxious feelings.

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