Help with Back to School Anxiety

As the school year kicks off, the normal first day jitters have been magnified by the fact that school just won’t look like it should. It’s a stressful time for families, and for those kids that struggle with anxiety, it can seem like an overwhelming challenge. But it doesn’t have to be.

Occupational therapy helps people develop the skills needed to complete daily living skills. This includes fine and gross motor skills, cognitive skills and self-care tasks like brushing teeth and getting dressed. But an OT also teaches skills children can use to help with challenges you may not be able to see, like anxiety.  

Children with anxiety often find it difficult to manage everyday tasks and situations which can lead to them getting upset, worried and distant. Occupational therapy can help by teaching children techniques they can apply to help lessen and manage their anxiety.

If the shift in how the school year will go is challenging for your family, consider the following:

Avoid the Morning Rush

After living in a relaxed summer schedule (longer, actually!), it can be quite a shift to get back into a morning school routine. There just never seems to be enough time in the morning, so talking about a routine and practicing it with your child will set everyone up for success.

For younger kids, this can be done by creating a visual schedule. Find images online or take actual photos of all the tasks your child needs to complete each morning (going to the bathroom, getting dressed, brushing hair/teeth, eating breakfast) and put them in order on a chart using Velcro or clothespins. Once your child completes a task, they can remove the image from the list and start working on the next one. For older kids, writing tasks out as a list can also be effective.

Be sure to post the schedule or list where it can be seen easily, or consider posting a few in key areas of the house like the bathroom, bedroom and kitchen. By having a list of tasks your child knows they need to complete can help everyone get ready in the morning with less stress and get them ready for learning in the classroom or online.

Keep Talking

Whether kids are starting school online, in the classroom, or a combination of both, there are going to be big changes to get used to. Continue the conversation about how school is different, and that’s okay. We are living in a time of uncertainty where things can change quickly. Keep having open dialogue with your child about changes to schedules so they can prepare and share how those changes make them feel.

If talking is a struggle, consider asking your child to draw pictures of how they are feeling or what they remember from their day of school. Drawing will help lower anxious feelings and provide an opportunity to talk by using the drawing as starting point for the discussion.

Create a Quite Space

With the future of the school year feeling like the ups and downs of a roller coaster, your child’s anxiety may be just as varied. Consider establishing a quite area of your house or your child’s room where they know they can go when they are feeling anxious. Items in the quite area might include a comfy beanbag chair, books, noise cancelling headphones, relaxing music and any other sensory items that usually help your child feel calm. Establishing a quite space can go a long way in helping your child learn how to manage their anxiety on their own.

The school year may be uncertain, but helping your child manage their anxiety doesn’t have to be. Planning ahead, having ongoing conversations and creating an environment for them to feel comfortable in will go a long way to ensure a successful school year.

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