8 Tips from a Therapist...

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8 Tips from a Therapist for Getting Back to School in 2021

August 10, 2021

By Mary Palacios, LCSW, M.Ed.

The past year has been difficult for all of our students, and we can expect that the start of this school year will be just as difficult as students, parents, and educators adapt to the challenges of school reentry.

For students who struggle with performance anxiety or social anxiety, last year’s remote learning provided an escape of sorts from the daily stressors that naturally occur with in-person learning. That escape, though, will be the most significant contributor to back to school anxiety.

As a parent or caretaker, you must take care of your own worries and fears first. Your child picks up on how you are feeling, and oftentimes will mirror you. Take this opportunity to teach them how to cope with fear or worries. Admitting to your kid that you are feeling worried validates their feelings, which can be really helpful. Then, modeling healthy ways to cope with those stressors teaches your child how to do the same.

Here are 8 tips for parents and students as they navigate this transition:

1. Social Opportunities

If your student has been making themselves more isolated than normal (staying home or in their room, canceling plans with friends, avoiding social activities, etc.), provide and support opportunities for them to interact with peers.

2. Get Into A Routine

Routines are important for creating a sense of security and control, and a daily healthy routine can alleviate feelings of anxiety. The busy school/extracurricular routine will soon be upon us, and the best way to prepare is to lay the foundation of a daily routine now. 

3. 8 Hours Of Sleep

Sleep hygiene goes hand in hand with a healthy daily routine. Parents can help their students prepare for the adjustment to early mornings by fostering healthy sleep habits. This includes avoiding daytime naps, shutting down electronics at least an hour before bedtime, creating a bedtime routine, and trying to sleep and wake at the same time every day.

4. Notice & Limit Worry Triggers

For those students who are concerned about safety as they return to school, it will be important to communicate adequately with them regarding the protocols that the school will have in place to keep them safe, and what they can do to protect themselves and their friends at school.

At the same time, it is important to balance communication with limiting the triggers that might contribute to their anxiety. Don’t have the news on all the time and try to avoid talking about the virus and the number of people getting sick more than is necessary.

5. Model Adaptive Coping Skills

Our kids watch us closely and look to us for a sense of security. If we model effective strategies for coping with anxiety, they will learn from us! Skip to the bottom for an infographic with adaptive coping skills you can practice together!

6. Exposure

Try to have your student do a schedule “walk-through” before the first day. Often, having that little bit of exposure will alleviate the first day jitters.

7. Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice going through anxiety-provoking situations and then process your student’s feelings about what makes them feel those emotions. See if you can implement some of those adaptive coping skills in some of these situations.

8. State Your Expectations

Communicate your expectations about a consistent school attendance routine, and then stick to those expectations. A lack of predictability has been one of the hardest parts of the pandemic for kids.

Consistency and structure help to alleviate anxiety, and talking about what your student can expect and what is expected of them are important components of the structure.

It’s Going to be OK

Remember, kids are resilient. The transition time will be challenging, but with our consistent support, our kids will adapt.

If you are noticing behavior changes related to the worries and stress of returning to school in-person that aren’t helped by following the points here, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. We are here for you and for your kids.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD the above graphic

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