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Back to school jitters are normal. Most kids are nervous as a new school year starts. However, it’s an especially hard time for kids – like my daughter – who struggle with anxiety disorders. Here are some ways we’ve found to ease the transition panic.
Start communication early. Start talking about possible triggers at the beginning of summer, both with the school staff and your child. If your child sees a therapist, ask them to start addressing back-to-school concerns. (If they don’t, consider if it might be helpful.)
Get everything in writing. Find out your child’s teacher, schedule, school rules, supply list and any other info you can gather as soon as possible. Get it in writing and put it all in a binder for your child. Other useful info includes a school calendar, cafeteria menu, bus schedule and map of the school. There’s comfort in knowing what to expect and being prepared.
Acknowledge and accept the anxiety, but work on coping skills. Don’t tell your child to just get over it. If it was that easy, they would! Instead say, “I know you’re worried about going back to school and that’s okay. Let’s see if we can figure out some ways to help you feel better.” Meditation, talking about it, writing in a journal and participating in an activity such as swimming or yoga are a few ideas.
If your child has trouble vocalizing their anxious feelings, a new toy is available to help. Worry Eaters are plush friends with zippered mouths. Children write or draw their worries and feed it to the adorable stuffed monster who will hold on to it for them so they can take a break and get some rest.
Brainstorm and role play. Work together to develop strategies to deal with your child’s biggest fears. Facing their fears through role play and brainstorming solutions in a safe environment is empowering.
Create a morning ritual. Anxious kids feel better with a routine. Make a schedule for getting out the door and stick with it – as long as it’s working. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments until it feels right.
Have an escape plan. I have a deal with my daughter on the really rough mornings. If she makes it to lunch, I’ll pick her up if she wants to go home. Usually just knowing an escape plan is an option is all it takes to get her in the car and through the whole day of school.
Stay in touch. It’s okay to check in with your child’s teacher to see how they’re doing – no matter if they are in preschool or high school! I also ask the school to let my daughter call me if she needs reassurance. She’s never abused the privilege.
Most of all, give it time. Back to school is an unsettling time and anxious kids take longer than most to adjust.