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5 Tips from a Speech-Language Pathologist for Handling Anxiety this 2016-2017 School Year

Posted July 24, 2016

Ridge Zeller Therapy's, Meghan Zeller, M.S., CCC-SLP, shares five helpful tips for managing back-to-school jitters this 2016-2017 school year, from the perspective of a Speech-Language Pathologist and mother of two young children.

5 Tips for Handling Back-To-School Anxiety

August in Arizona means summer break is over (but unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the summer desert heat) and the 2016-2017 school year is about to begin. Yep, it's back-to-school time!

There are so many changes at this time of year: teachers, schools, friends, rules, clothes, shoes, and increased expectations. For many children and parents, the start of a new school year is exciting and full of possibilities, but for some, it can bring stress, anxiety, and fear of the “unknown.”

I have two young boys, ages 8 and 10, and in my house, even the “good” back-to-school changes can be a source of stress and anxiety for all of us.

For me, it means buying all the essentials: uniforms, “cool” shoes, backpacks, and school supplies; figuring out the complex schedules for before and after school activities; and worrying about what the new school year will bring for each of my boys.

Although I try to stay in the moment, my mind and heart won’t let me. I have a hard time turning off the "mom worries" and all of the scary “What ifs?”

The things that trigger the most tension for me are those that are out of my control.

Here’s what’s on the top of my list right now:

  • “Who will be my kids’ teachers?”
  • “Will the teachers know, love, and care for my children as the unique individuals they are?”
  • “Will I be able to handle whatever challenges that will, invariably, arise?”  
  • “Am I doing everything I can to help them adjust?”

My 10 year-old has learning disabilities and is currently preparing to change schools, which brings even more questions and concerns: “Is he ready for the academic demands awaiting him?” “What if his teacher doesn’t realize his potential?”, “What if his peers make fun of him?”, "Will this school be the right fit for him?"

My 8 year-old is a perfectionist and always wants to do his best. “Will his teacher notice his sensitivity and help him to be less hard on himself?”

My kids also stress about back to school, but for different reasons. I hear them say “Will my teacher be mean?”; “Will I have time to eat my lunch?”; “Will I have any friends from last year in my class?”; “Will I be in the ‘smart’ group?”; “What if I have to go to the bathroom?”

As the school days approach, these worries lead to difficulty falling asleep and long discussions between us. While I try to do my best to ease their fears, I continue to struggle with my own and work hard not to let them show. I don’t want my anxiety to fuel theirs.

Here are a few things that have helped my children and me handle our back-to-school anxiety and ease the 2016-2017 school year stress:

1. Listen attentively with interest, patience, and care to your children’s worries. If they don’t feel like talking about what's bothering them in the moment, let them know you'll be there when they are ready to talk.

2. Establish a back-to-school routine a few days before school starts. Return to school bedtimes and wake-up schedules.

3. Remind your child that lots of students are uneasy about the first day of school. Point out the positive aspects of starting school, like seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and learning new things.

4. Find another child in the neighborhood with whom your student can walk to school or ride on the bus. Take car trips to and from school. Practice getting out at the drop off area and finding the “line” on the playground for lining up when recess is over.

5. Attend orientations or Meet-the-Teacher events so your child will see their classroom and will know what to expect. While you’re there, tour the school so your child can independently find his class, drinking fountains, bathrooms, and cafeteria.

These are just a few things that come to mind, but there are many other ways to help alleviate back-to-school anxiety.

As a mom, when my kids feel good about school and are happy, I feel good about school, and I’m happy. I have to remind myself to “stay in the moment”. There are no “what ifs”.

I don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t know what’s going to happen in the '16-'17 school year any more than my kids do. I try to play this mantra in my head: “I can’t change the past and I can’t predict the future. I can only deal with the present.”

But at the end of the day, it’s really about my boys feeling loved, safe, and ready to learn as they set out on their new adventures.

And, to be honest, it’s about me too, when my boys are quietly sleeping in their beds, feeling like I’m doing my best for them.

Isn’t that what we all want for our children?

Here’s to a healthy and happy 2016-2017 school year!

Please share any tips that have worked for you and your child around back-to-school time. We would love to hear your ideas in the comment section below!

*** Additional Reading: Parent's Guide to Speech and Language Development at Home ***

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