• Dayna Sharp, LCSW

Back To School Anxieties


Back to School: Tips for a Smoother Ride!


If your child struggles with anxiety, the "Back to School" season can be a difficult one. After all, this time of year is nothing more than a huge transition, and anxious kids can have lots of trouble with transitions!


August: The Month of Anticipation


For a few weeks now, I've been hearing people talk about the end of summer, and the upcoming back to school season. "I can't believe summer's over", they say wistfully. "I'm already hearing ads for back to school supplies", they note. Adults aren't the only ones who sense the upcoming shift--kids feel the anticipation as well. The difference is kids generally won't talk about it the way adults will. Instead, they might experience more anxiety, more excitement, and generally feel--and act--more off balance. By the last two weeks of August, most summer camps are over, kids are lacking a structured routine and parents are often exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated. All this too, can add to children's stress.


Facing the Change


And then, September rolls around, the anticipation is over, and the change has arrived. There are new teachers, new classmates, higher academic expectations, earlier wake up times, earlier bed times, and often a busier life. The adjustment back into the swing of the school year can be difficult for kids and their parents too!


How to Get Through with Grace


1. Like all hard times, this too shall pass. Sometimes, when we are caught up in the stress of the moment, it's easy to forget that this is a temporary transition period, and it is important to remember that you've been through it before and you will get through it again.


2. Try to keep as much structure/routine as possible during the end of August. When kids know what to expect in their daily life, they feel more emotionally safe and have more sense of control, mastery and confidence. Keep a calendar so that your kids can see what to expect each day--even if it's just a daytrip to the beach or a day with their grandparent.


3. Schedule yourself some down time, when possible. When parents are with their kids everyday all day for the last few weeks of summer, parents can become exhausted. Throw in work expectations, and it's a wonder how any of us survive! But we do! And getting a babysitter or scheduling some playdates for the kids can help you thrive as you maintain your own sense of balance and ability to stay cool.


4. Remind kids to stay in the moment. "I know school is on your mind, but we still have two more weeks of summer".


5. If you notice your kids acting out more than usual, or generally seeming more stressed out, you might "pick your battles", knowing that it's likely stress related to a temporary time. But it can also be helpful to wonder aloud if they might be feeling nervous or excited about school starting. Help them to normalize their feelings. Let them know that almost everyone feels some combination of nervous and excited about going back to school--even the teachers!


6. Try adjusting your children's bedtime schedule a few days before school. When kids are well-rested, they are much more able to regulate their feelings and less likely to act them out.


7. See if you can take steps to transition your child into their new school year. Did they meet their new teacher? Can they see the teacher's photo online? Can they write their teacher a letter? Do they know their classmates? Can they have some playtime with a few of their new classmates? If your child is going to a new school, or is particularly anxious about the school year, it could be helpful to go for a visit--even and especially if it's just for fun on the outside playground.


8. Finally, make sure that kids are familiar with their school year routine. If you have systems, like a morning schedule--start practicing a few days before, and/or make a visual schedule so they can see what to do. You might hang tasks/expectations on their bedroom door, bathroom mirror or near the kitchen table. Do the same with after school expectations. Remind children at drop off what they can expect upon pick up. Is there afterschool care? Extracurricular activities? Previewing what will happen will help kids feel more secure. And the more kids feel secure, the more balanced they are.


Create Space for Fun!


Don't forget to have fun! Help yourself and your child to design, experience and recognize the joyful moments throughout the transition. When anxiety, behaviors, or too much excitement gets in the way of your child's adjustment, expanding your village and connecting them to emotional support is a great way to get through with grace. I help kids cope with anxiety and other intense emotions so that they can be more free to be themselves, with confidence, and to really experience the joyful moments as they come.


Call today to see if I might be a good match for your child! 856-281-1664