How to Reduce Back-to-School Anxiety
As our little ones get ready to head back to school, it can be an anxious time for both parents and students alike. How can we prepare for a successful start to the new school year? You can help your child reduce anxiety by helping them understand what to expect. One of the reasons children have difficulty with back to school transitions is the fear of an unknown routine or adapting to unexpected changes.
Try these simple ideas to ease the transition:
1. Make the most of orientation. Giving your child a chance to see the classroom and meet important people before the first day will give them peace of mind and help to ease any fears they may have about the new environment. Take photos while you're there so you can look at them at home with your child to prepare for things like where they will put their backpack, eat lunch, sit for circle time, or even where they will go to play outside during recess.
2. Create a visual weekly schedule or download one of many printables available on Etsy or Teachers Pay Teachers. Talking to your child about these things the morning of can give them something to look forward to and focus on (instead of anything else that may be making them anxious). Here are some ideas of what to include:
School Resources - Ask your child's teacher for a resource schedule that includes the days your child will have music, art, library etc..
Drop off & Pick up - who will be dropping off/picking up your child from school
After school Activities - tutoring, sports, therapy, fun with Grandma, etc.
Special Events - any special events or holidays celebrated at school such as silly sock day, show and tell, Dr. Seuss week, etc.
Some weekly schedules can get pretty fancy but keeping it simple will be most effective in helping your child prepare for the week (and to help ensure that you can keep up with it each week). Try to avoid focusing on the specific time or order of events that take place during the school day as this can change frequently depending on your child's teacher/school. Make sure to remind your child that the visual schedule is a weekly PLAN, which means there may be some changes along the way and that's OK. Keeping a positive focus on flexibility will benefit everyone as the school year starts!
3. Talk about the daily schedule during breakfast. Take a few minutes to look at the visual schedule with your child in the morning and give them an opportunity to ask questions. Sometimes the things that your child is worried about can be effectively addressed by taking a few minutes to simply ask them if they have any questions about their day.
4. Ask the teacher if she can give you advanced notice of upcoming changes. For instance, some teachers will text/email when they will be out so you can prepare your child for a substitute teacher. This kind of heads up can really save the day for some of the more anxious kiddos that may be completely thrown off by this sort of surprise!
5. Get back on track with an early bedtime at least a week before the first day of school. As most parents know, everything is just harder when kids are tired!
6. Make morning routine picture cards with tasks that need to be completed, like dressing, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, getting backpack etc. Make sure to allow for a little reward time if your child is ready ahead of schedule such as free play, games, or even a dance party to shake out the sillies before school!
7. Strategically place reminders for older kids such as a note/checklist near the door with reminders of things they need to have before they leave for school (ie homework, lunch, soccer clothes, etc).
8. Positive self-talk - Come up with a positive self-talk mantra with your child that you can remind them of to avoid a meltdown right before drop off. Something simple that resonates with your child will be the most effective. There are a million options but here are a few examples: "I've/You've got this", "It's going to be a great day", "I/You can do this". Some kids also really love a good secret handshake!
9. Bus Riders - If your child is riding the bus for the first time prepare them for lots of noise, stops and starts. Having an assigned seat near the front and wearing headphones may help with sensory overload. Make sure they know where they get on/off the bus and who will be there to meet them or how they will get home from the bus stop.
10. Talk about Lunch - If your child is going into Kindergarten this year and/or will be eating lunch at school for the first time, make sure to prepare them for lunch. Many times, the lunchroom is very noisy and can be intimidating for younger kids. Try to swing by the cafeteria after orientation to familiarize your child before school starts. Also, pack a simple "I love you" note in their lunchbox to help them through the day!
We hope your child has a successful first week back to school! If your child is struggling with transitioning after the first couple of weeks click here to set up a consult with one of our therapists to find out how we can help.