Combating Back-to-School Anxiety

by
Makayla DuBois and Patrick Harlan, FCNI Rehabilitation Specialists
August, 21, 2018 -

We all know that the Back-to-School anxiety is a real thing, so some of our Rehabilitation Specialist staff who work one-on-one with our youth and families, as well as in the classroom with kids, put together some pointers on how to make this transition as smooth as possible!

 

Here are some of Makayla’s suggestions:

Visit the school BEFORE the first day!

Whether your child is returning to the same school as last year, or they’re starting out somewhere brand new, seeing their school campus/classroom location before the first day of school can be SO helpful in reducing anxieties and fears. Whenever we walk into a new situation, it can feel overwhelming when we don’t know what to expect. By allowing your child to walk around their campus and see where their classroom is, where they will eat lunch, where the bathrooms are, etc., you are helping them become familiar and comfortable. They will be able to walk into their first day of school feeling confident that they know where to go!

► Create a visual schedule for new routines

It can be challenging to switch from a relaxing summer schedule to a structured, fast-paced school routine. You can ease this tough transition by creating visual schedule posters or cards for your children to view, hold and use to remind themself “what is coming next.” If your child tends to worry or become uneasy when expectations and routines are unclear, this strategy will help so much in providing consistent, easy-to-understand directions. Visual schedules can include photos or drawings of step-by-step activities such as “getting ready for school” in the morning, “being picked up” or “riding the bus home,” “doing homework,” “dinner time,” and “time for bed.” These schedules can be made pocket-sized, and even held together with a binder-ring so your child can keep it with them for reminders preparing to start a new school schedule.

► Help your child feel excited by being excited yourself!

Children are observant and they can tell when we feel nervous. If you are feeling some fears or stress about the back-to-school transition, your child is likely to feed off of that energy. Be a good role model and show excitement and enthusiasm for the fun new opportunities your child will have. Talk about the fun activities they may do at school; have them talk about what things they hope they will get to do this year. Help them pick out a special “first day of school outfit” and take special “first day of school” pictures; make the process exciting! Show your children that you are confident in THEM and their ability to succeed. It can be hard to send your child to a new classroom without knowing what the year ahead will hold, but the best way you can ensure their success is by letting them know how much you believe in them.

► Prepare school materials about a week in advance

With so much going on and such busy schedules, back-to-school preparation and shopping can sometimes be pushed to the last minute. Do your best to get your child’s supplies packed, ready, and set by the front door as early as possible to make sure they KNOW they are ready to go. The night before the first day, and certainly the morning-of can be stressful and very busy. By having supplies packed and ready, you can take one worry off everyone’s plate.

 

Patrick, one of our Rehabilitation Specialist staff who primarily works in a therapeutic learning classroom has some more suggestions on how to mitigate back-to-school anxiety:

Set up a “drill” with your family

For one or two mornings the week before school, try setting up a “drill” with your family! Review with your kids the known expectations for their morning routine (i.e., when to wake up, process of getting ready, breakfast, etc.). Set a timer and turn it into a game! It’s important to lend your kiddos a sense of self-control and let them have a say in their expectations for their morning routine, no matter how outlandish their suggestions may be. The more we can include our kids in various planning processes/establishments of expectations, the better results! Just as important: how do you plan on positively reinforcing their participation in the activity? Converse with them prior to the activity, listen to their input for an appropriate incentive and provide them with a reward when appropriate.

► Structure your home environment to meet the needs of your child

Ask yourself: How can I structure my home environment to best meet the needs of my child, as well as successfully aid in their morning transitions while reducing the potential for an incident? For example, I have worked with a family in ensuring their child shower the night before to eliminate any power struggles with following through on their morning routine. With this specific case, the caregiver provided the youth with the choice to sleep in clothes they’d like to wear the following day (this was a contextual response due to the severity of the youth’s behaviors/defiance in assisting them transition throughout their routine). However, proactively tailoring the environment to the needs of the youth was very successful in reducing defiance throughout the morning. Pack their lunch the day before. Identify an area in the home backpacks and shoes are left prior to leaving for school--get creative! The takeaway in this is knowing the importance of one’s environment in promoting or disturbing success.

► Evaluate the routine when returning from school

It's just as important to evaluate your kid's routine for when they return from school! I have worked with many families who expect their child to immediately begin their homework after they walk in the door from a long day of instruction. This expectation, of course, can often result in defiance and power struggles. Ask yourself what can be done to ease everyone’s transition home? Strategies families have used in the past have been to set aside time for a snack, engage in a grounding activity for a set amount of time (i.e., physical activity - going for a walk, jumping on trampoline, etc.). Try to stay away from devices. The transition from using devices to structured time can prove difficult. Also, remember to set aside time (even if it's just 15 minutes) to sit down and check-in with your kids about their day. Work on creating a behavioral incentive system to help guide your household during transitions both to and from school, and make sure to have fun with it!

 

We hope these suggestions are helpful, and that this new school year is a fresh start and a positive experience for you all!