Battling back-to-school anxiety: prep work starts now
LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - As students head back to the classroom, more are carrying anxiety in their backpacks.
Research shows anxiety was becoming more common in school-age kids even before the pandemic, and tensions only grew from there.
Psychologist and assistant professor at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center Natalie Scanlon says helping kids get ready for the first day starts now. That includes getting back on a normal sleeping schedule, getting medications on track to work with school hours, and limiting time on electronics.
She also recommends creating an open space in homes for kids to come to caregivers with their concerns.
“That certainly doesn’t need to look like sitting them down and asking them what they’re worried about. But hey, you’re moving from elementary school to middle school or from middle school to high school. Or, I know you have a certain teacher for math class, what are your thoughts about that?” Dr. Scanlon said.
Asking too many questions, though, can make kids feel like they should be more nervous than they actually are. Dr. Scanlon says often it’s caregivers experiencing back-to-school anxiety. Especially if it’s their first time dropping a child off, she says to practice saying goodbye.
“Having those cope-ahead plans and knowing that once you say the goodbye, even if you’re emotional or the child’s emotional, or both, that sticking with it and separating and allowing the child to regulate is really the best move,” she said.
Dr. Scanlon says to take note if a child repeatedly has stomach aches or headaches, anxiety can manifest physically. Tools like box breathing and muscle relaxation can help ease students’ stress.
She also recommends praise and reinforcement.
“If you can face that really hard thing and and stick with it and do really well, maybe we can have a special treat after school,” Dr. Scanlon said.
If caregivers anticipate their child may struggle, they can do a dry practice run. Scanlon says to take them to the school, let them see it and meet their teachers.
“I will often say exposure, repetition, mastery. So, we want to expose the child to what they’re afraid of. We want to get repeated practice of that, and then we want them to master it and feel as confident as they can on the first day of school.”
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