Returning to school after winter break can cause increased anxiety for children. Transitions can be especially difficult for children with anxiety, autism spectrum disorders and ADD/ADHD. This can be a stressful time for the child, parents, and the entire family. It is normal to feel anxious during times of change and transition. However, if anxiety is interfering with your child’s ability to return to school or to perform his or her daily activities, here are a few tips on how to ease the back to school anxiety:
1.) Encourage your child to share their fears
Ask him or her to be specific and allow them to be the expert and problem solve. For example, “If _________happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation” or “What has worked in the past, when you felt this way.”
2.) Create a routine
Ease your child back into a school routine by waking up, eating, and going to bed at regular times, and gradually limiting screen time on devices. Continue everyday activities as normal. To involve your child ask him or her to help plan school lunches for the week and pack their backpack in advance together. If your child would like, have them pick out their outfit for the first day or the week.
3.) Develop a plan and reward system
Discuss the schedule for the week ahead and allow your child to plan an activity and/or reward that they will look forward to each day or each week. For example, allow your child to pick out a snack every day after school, choose a game to play, or t.v. show to watch each evening. Then at the end of the week, allow your child to plan an outing of their choice, for example going for ice cream, to the zoo or to see a movie.
4.) Teach and practice coping skills
Here are coping skills to use when your child is feeling nervous, such as journaling, artwork, or using methods such as How to Do Calm Breathing, Developing and Using Cognitive Coping Cards or Creating a Worry Box (see links below).
5.) Remember: Easing anxiety is a process
It takes time to adjust to a new schedule. Be patient. It is normal for children to have trouble for a week or two after a break or the start of school. Each day can bring new challenges. This is especially true for older students, who are navigating new classes, different teachers and schedules.
When to seek professional help
There are some warning signs that your child may need some extra help. Here are a few: If after a few weeks you see your child is still struggling, not wanting to go to school, finding it difficult to perform normal activities, feeling increasingly anxious at nighttime seek help from a professional.
By: Allison West Kaskey M.Ed., Eds., LPCC-S