Maritime students are back to school this week, and while the start of a new school year is exciting for many youngsters, it can cause a great deal of anxiety for others.

Shelley Richardson, the regional director of Kids Help Phone for Atlantic Canada, says counsellors with the organization are already fielding calls from stressed-out students.

“Our counsellors hear from children as early as the beginning of August in anticipation of going back to a new school year,” says Richardson.

Psychologist Jacqueline Milner-Clerk says a number of factors contribute to back-to-school anxiety and one of the biggest culprits is a fear of the unknown.

“Who’s going to be my teacher? Which friends are going to be in my class? Are there going to be any friends in my class? Is there anybody new?” she says of the issues that can cause anxiety for students. “And if it’s the first time going to school, or to a new school, the anxiety if even more so on the unknown as to where am I supposed to go? What am I supposed to do?”

Milner-Clerk says September stress is incredibly common, even among students who haven’t had any problems in the past.

Richardson says parents should keep an eye out for symptoms, which may include trouble sleeping, or complaining of stomachaches or headaches.

“If kids don’t want to talk about it, you might have a problem,” says Richardson. “If they don’t want to go shopping for new school clothes or new school supplies there might be a problem and that’s worth investigating and finding out what those reasons are why they’re so uncomfortable.”

Bullying is another common cause of back-to-school anxiety. Roughly ten per cent of the 5,000 calls to the Kids Help Phone each week are related to bullying. Milner-Clerk says it can even cause stress in students who have never been a victim.

“Because there’s so much discussion about bullying and these unpleasant circumstances that some children fear or get anxious that it might happen to them once they go there,” she explains.

She says there are ways to reduce the stress associated with returning to the classroom, such as starting a back-to-school routine as early as possible. She also says it’s important for parents to talk to their children about any fears they may have.

“I think it would be a great idea for younger kids, and even older kids, if they can connect with some of their schoolmate friends prior to returning to school so they can re-familiarize, they can buddy up a bit and talk about going back to school,” says Milner-Clerk.

Finally, she says it’s important to let the students in your household know help is available should they need it.