How to Help Your Teen Ease the Transition Back to School

5 ways parents can better support their teens.

Mother and son having conversation on sofa at home

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Heading back to school after a summer away often brings about a complex array of emotions for teenagers. There’s the excitement of being with their friends more regularly and an eagerness to jump back into learning. Of course, there’s also some natural hesitation about taking new classes, homework, and the social scene. 

This year may feel even more stressful for teens after multiple years of navigating COVID protocols, political and economic strife, and hearing about school shootings. As a result, this school year may seem particularly overwhelming for teenagers, stirring up additional feelings of stress and uncertainty.

Read on for advice on how parents help teens by offering emotional support and creating a semblance of normalcy.

An Uptick in Stress for Teens 

Students have undergone tremendous challenges the last few years due to the pandemic, social isolation, political dissension, school violence, and beyond. 

“While returning to school is often accompanied by a certain amount of uncertainty due to the loss of predictable structure over the summer, this year may come with additional intensity and anxiety,” says Dr. Jennifer Dragonette, PsyD., executive director Newport Healthcare. 

A 2021 study found that adolescents of varying backgrounds are experiencing more mental health disturbances, including anxiety, depression, and stress. And a survey from the Pew Research Center also found that the majority of U.S. teens are fearful about a shooting occurring at their own school.

How to Help Your Teen Cope

Our society will continue to feel the aftershocks of the pandemic, and chaotic elements of our world will also ebb and flow. While we cannot expect our kids to instantly bounce back and “return to normal,” we can take steps that ease their anxiety and foster our relationship with them.


When you have a conversation with your teen, try to really hear what they are saying—and what they are not saying.


Listen and Talk to Your Child  

An open dialogue with your teen sets the foundation for support, understanding, and a solid relationship. It creates a safe space where you can lend an ear to your teen’s concerns. 

“When you have a conversation with your teen, try to really hear what they are saying—and what they are not saying,” says Dr. Dragonette. “Ask them questions about their life, their friends, and things they like to do.” 

When they express that they are experiencing feelings of frustration or sadness, try to listen without offering unsolicited advice, confirm your love for them, and let them know that you are there for support. Dr. Dragonette adds that when they are problem-solving, try not to be judgmental, but instead ask if they are open to advice and then discuss appropriate options, alternatives, or solutions.

Keep in mind that teens can sometimes struggle when it comes to expressing feelings of stress or worry, so you may not hear them vocalize their feelings outright. It’s helpful for you to broach difficult conversations and provide a safe space for them to communicate.

Create a Consistent Routine 

One of the biggest contributors to stress is uncertainty. Helping your teen establish a set routine can help ease some of that anxiety. This can be as simple as creating a regimen for those early school mornings—such as setting their alarm at a time that allows them to get ready for school without feeling pressured and rushed—and planning out transportation to their events. 

“Creating consistency in their schedule helps bind anxiety by reducing uncertainty and providing a sense of control,” explains Dr. Tara Shuman, PsyD, assistant professor at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University. “Teens should begin to feel more comfortable once they get into a routine.”

Make Physical Health a Priority 

Mental health and physical health are often linked. Ingrain the importance of proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep and help your teen find success in all three dimensions. Encourage your teen to get outside and get off the devices as much as possible, and join in on the fun so you can further bond. 

“Have them walk the dog, go for a family bike ride, or pick up a sport you can do together like tennis or pickleball,” suggests Dr. Dragonette. She adds, “Activities like rock climbing, paddleboarding, surfing, and hiking can help teens gain self-confidence and learn coping mechanisms.” 

Preparing nutritious meals together feeds the mind and teaches self-care and self-sufficiency. Prioritize naturally colorful, well-balanced meals and try experimenting with new foods or recipes. 

Ideally, teens should be getting at least an hour of physical activity and between eight and 10 hours of sleep each day. Creating a routine around bedtime can help establish more consistency in your teen’s day-to-day life while ensuring they get adequate rest.


As parents, it is essential to practice good self-care and pay attention to your own mental health as you are modeling for your teen.


Lead By Example

Even if we don’t realize it’s happening, teens often look to their parents and pick up their habits. 

“As parents, it is essential to practice good self-care and pay attention to your own mental health as you are modeling for your teen,” Dr. Shuman notes. “Even with the eye rolls and the ‘you don’t understand’ retorts, your teen is observing you and you are their best model for healthy coping.” 

That means eating well, exercising, getting good sleep and practicing self-compassion by being kind to yourself when things do not go well. What’s more, managing your own stress is essential to prevent that anxiety from becoming contagious to your teen. Embodying these skills equips teens with observable tools on how they, too, can cope with life’s stressors and uncertainties.

Consider Professional Help

When a parent reaches the limit of their ability to help their child, professional help is the next step. While this can be a tough decision for everyone involved it can greatly benefit your child. 

“It can be difficult to admit that your teen needs help for a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, but the consequence of not seeking professional help could be much worse,” notes Dr. Dragonette. “Parents should never feel ashamed or afraid to speak to a professional about their child’s mental health, just as they wouldn’t hesitate to discuss a physical ailment with the pediatrician.”

If your teen experiences any of the below, it’s a sign you may want to reach out for professional guidance:

  • Extreme fear about attending school: This may include obsessive preoccupation or panic attacks
  • Withdrawal: Worry and stress prompting isolation from family and friends
  • Poor Sleep: Consistently poor sleep can be an indicator of stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Lack of Self-Care: Teens struggling to maintain hygiene, eat well, or move their body in healthy ways could also indicate stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts: If your teen has contemplated or attempted self-harm, intervention is necessary  

Your teen’s physician, a mental health professional, a school counselor, or a local or national crisis text/talk line or mental health referral line are good places to start.

A Word From Verywell

The cumulative stress we have all been managing over the last several years has impacted adults and parents, too. So, if you’re feeling emotionally stretched or unsure of how to help your teen, know that you aren’t alone. Taking time to prioritize your own mental health can provide more space to provide comfort and care for your teen.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jones EAK, Mitra AK, Bhuiyan AR. Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health in Adolescents: A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Mar 3;18(5):2470. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18052470. PMID: 33802278; PMCID: PMC7967607.

  2. Pew Research Center. A majority of U.S. teens fear a shooting could happen at their school, and most parents share their concern.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Helping children handle stress.

By Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a lifestyle reporter with over a decade of experience covering health and wellness topics.