5 Back to School Secrets to Reduce Anxiety

August 20, 2014

in Ask Dr Lisa, Autism Challenges

 

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Dr. Lisa, my son gets excited for back to school. He can’t wait to see his friends and meet his new teacher. He also thrives on having a daily schedule. However, this time of year creates so much anxiety for him. As the first day of school approaches, he starts to get very nervous, asking me so many questions and having feelings of not wanting to go. How can I help reduce this back to school anxiety and help him work through this struggle? I know he really wants to go. Thank you.”  ~ Amanda

Back to School. A bitter sweet time of the year.

Kids are excited to go back, meet their teacher and kick back with their friends.  Most kids find this time of year exciting and a total social delight.

Some kids don’t. This time of year can be very overwhelming for them. The idea of not knowing who this new teacher is or who their new friends will be can be gut wrenching.

If a child is at the middle or high school level, having five or more new teachers and classrooms, a new map to find them and making new friends can be enough to just make the skin crawl off their backs.

In our home this time of year makes me want to scream. My son’s anxiety can be too much and makes me want to just bag the whole school thing all together. As many parents are loving their new freedom, I am dreading my kids going back to school and sadly waving summer good-bye.

I get thoughts like: Run. Run the other way. This is way too much for us to handle. 

I know my job as mom is to teach my son the skills on how to overcome his anxieties and challenges related to ASD, so running the other way or bagging school all together are probably not the best solutions.

I have discovered over the years and implemented some lifesaving back-to-school strategies that have made this supposedly wonderful time of year more enjoyable  for all.  Honest. These are golden little nuggets to implement.

These adaptive strategies focus on answering your child’s number one fear: What will happen next?

 1. REQUEST A WALK THROUGH

A few weeks before school starts, call your child’s guidance counselor and/or Child Study Team and request a one-on-one walk through before school starts. Put time aside for you to take your child into the school and have someone walk you both around.  Start with going to his new classroom and allowing him to walk around and get a feel for it. Sometimes, if you schedule the walk through at the right time, your child’s teacher may be there setting up the classroom. This is a great way for them to meet.  You can reach out to his new teacher ahead of time and see if this is possible.

For the middle and high school child, schedule a one-on-one walk through also.  Get a copy of your child’s schedule and a map of the school first. Follow his/her schedule from homeroom to his last period.  Make sure you jot his path on the map also, so when you get home you can keep reviewing his path. This transition can be so overwhelming that I also recommend to have your child meet both his Child Study Team go- to person and guidance counselor.  Make sure your child knows how to get to their office in case any problems arise. This gives your child a go-to place with his worries and concerns.

2. PLAN A MEET AND GREET

As mentioned above, it’s a super idea to meet as many people as possible before the first day of school. This will reduce your child’s anxiety over not knowing who these new people are and what they are like.  Social anxiety is a huge problem, so nipping the questions and fears of meeting new adults is a great tool. Call your school before school starts and ask who your child’s new teacher is so you can contact his teacher through email and plan a meet and greet. When you call the school, also schedule a meet and greet for the guidance counselor and Child Study Team go-to person. It is a wonderful bonus when all of them are in the school at the same time prepping their rooms, but this may not always be possible.

For the middle and high school child, it is very difficult to meet and greet all his new teachers. However, it is really helpful when you reach out to each one through email before school starts and explain to them your child’s social and back-to-school anxieties.  Most teachers are very supportive and will gladly meet your child and/or reach out to them with your consent. I highly recommend your child having a meet and greet with his guidance counselor and Child Study Team go-to person so he knows he has a person to turn to with any worries or concerns.

3. CREATE A MAP AND SCHEDULE

Every child has a teacher and schedule assigned before school starts. A great idea that helped our son, Luke, was to know who this teacher is and what his daily schedule will be before the first day of school. This way you can do a walk through as mentioned above and also review the schedule and map at home to reduce his anxiety. You can create a schedule together that starts with what time to get up, what time to be ready by, what time the bus or drop off is, what time and where his class is, etc. Your child can also have his daily schedule at his desk each day, so he knows what is expected of him, what will happen next and where he should be.  Simply contact his teacher and request for this to be done. This has been a huge life saver for Luke, his teacher and me!

Maps and schedules works very well for middle and high school children as almost all students depend on their maps of the school and schedules to get from homeroom to last period.  Call the school before the first day and get a hold of that schedule so you can do a walk through and also go over it at home.

Remember, you are removing fears of not knowing what will happen next by simply creating a schedule that tells your child exactly what is going to happen and where he should be.

4. OVERCOME LOCKER FEARS

Lockers in middle and high school can create a huge amount of anxiety for kids with sensory problems and/or kids on the Spectrum. The crowded hallways alone can overwhelm the nervous system (we call this an overtilted nervous system). This can result in poor behavior, social skills, academic performance, melt downs and anxiety problems. When a child navigates through a crowded noisy hallway and gets to his locker, the slamming of other lockers and trying to get the combination correct to open the locker can be downright temper tantrum causing.  Perhaps the child will hold it emotionally together, but if his nervous system is overtilted and he cannot self-regulate it back to balance, problems in areas of social, behavior, emotion and academics can result.

Call the school ahead and discuss your concerns regarding his locker. Make sure his locker is placed on the end and above (not below) other lockers. This avoids the slamming of the locker above his head and ears. If possible, try to find a locker that he can get to throughout the day.  A huge problem both my sons have come across is they do not have enough time to get through crowded hallways to their lockers and to their next class. Having a locker in a central location is key, but not always possible.

If your child is having trouble with the combination locks, you can get one that hangs and practice it at home.  You can actually have this lock used on the locker and have the old one that is there taken off. Just make sure you call and arrange this so you purchase the right kind of lock. My son refuses to use the combination locks, so we had the school take off the old lock. We use a word lock instead of a number combination lock.  He uses another word lock for his gym locker too.

HOW TO MAKE THE BEST USE OF A LOCKER

An important skill to teach your child regarding his locker, is how to use it most effectively. Lockers can easily become black holes that seem to suck up their books, homework assignments, hall passes and school IDs. You name it; it’s probably in that locker. Here are two ways to make the best use of a locker:

THE TOP SHELF:  Make the top shelf in the locker the place where ONLY BOOKS AND FOLDERS TO GO HOME are placed.  As your child goes about his day and goes to his locker, he is to place only the homework books and folders on the top shelf.  All other books not going home can be tossed on the bottom. This way, when last period or next to last rolls around, he simply has to go to his locker and grab the homework-ready books and folders.

THE BOOK BAG HOOK: Most locker have hooks where you can hang a jacket. Use this hook to hang your child’s book bag if he does not carry it around all day. The book bag stays on this hook and it is the place where ONLY THE BOOKS AND FOLDERS TO GO HOME are placed.  All other books not going home can be tossed on the top or bottom shelf. This is great because as your child goes about his day, he can place his homework books and folders into his book bag. When it is time to go home all he has to do is open his locker, grab his book bag and go.

5. BUILD READY-TO-GO CENTERS IN YOUR HOME

This is actually a huge topic within itself, so I am devoting other blog posts and fun challenges related to it. I found that being prepared is just as important as knowing what will happen next. Now, we can’t always be perfectly ready, but creating simple affordable go-to centers in your home really helps reduce anxiety for you and your child.

Create a homework center that has paper, pencils, crayons, markers and pencil sharpeners ready for homework time.  Have this center located right next to your designated homework spot. Try creating a place in your home where you child is to place his book bag, sport equipment and jacket the night before. This prevents trying to find homework papers and all things holy and needed the very next morning as you are running out the door. An art center is a great thing to have ready too. This is not always needed and can be located in a random closet or laundry room. Load it with things your child may need for last minute projects such as construction paper, glue, yarn, glitter, stickers etc.

Be ready, as much as possible, because let’s be real here, it is us parents who have to worry about all the above insanity.  Creating a ready-to-go center is a great way to not lose it (as in your mind).

Remember, you must teach the skill of going back to school, not expect it. Your child needs to know what is going to happen next, and anytime you can answer this question for him ahead of time, you will reduce anxiety within.

If you need more guidance on how to create academic success for you child, please grab my book, The Overtitled Child, a step-by-step guide on how I helped Luke shine in school by overcoming his ASD challenges.

Yours in Health and Happiness,

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Resources: * Always read my disclaimer and photo is by Dr. Lisa Sulsenti

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Krystyn @ Really, Are You Serious? September 5, 2014

We have a command center we set up this year…the girls are still getting into the habit of using it, but it helps. And, check lists! It helps them and me!

Kelli September 5, 2014

Great tips, Doc… as always! Love the ready-to-go center. 🙂

Jennifer McLucas September 5, 2014

I love these tips Dr. Lisa! I’m really interested in your ready-to-go centers idea, I can’t wait to read those posts! We also created a homework station this year, a tip I got from Pinterest. I’m still putting it together, so if you have any ideas for that I’d love to hear them!

Dr. Lisa September 5, 2014

Jennifer, I love that you are creating a homework station! I actually have a free 7 Day Homework Challenge coming out soon. It will help you set up various centers in your home that will help create more harmony for mom and child when it comes to school work. It has all my ideas smack in it! Will get it to you for sure! ~Dr. Lisa

Dr. Lisa September 5, 2014

Kelli, Thanks! Glad you like it. I thought it would tickle your fancy! 🙂 ~Dr. Lisa

Dr. Lisa September 5, 2014

Krystyn, A command center sounds perfect. Any way you can organize the school work is a win. And, I LOVE checklists! My son thrives off them too! Keep up the good work! ~Dr. Lisa

Jackie September 6, 2014

I’m forwarding this post to my daughter-in-law and might possibly post a copy in the teacher’s lounge at school! These are great ideas!! Enjoyed this post!

Katrina September 8, 2014

You’re so right–we “must teach the skill of going back to school, not expect it.” This is true in so many areas of life. We often expect our kids to behave a certain way or know something when really they haven’t ever been guided or taught or explained how to do it or handle it! (I was just having a conversation about this same thing today, so this topic is really resonating in my brain right now!)

I can see your passion for your subject in your writing! Great post!

Dr. Lisa September 10, 2014

Jackie, posting it in the teacher’s lounge is a great idea! The more we share the ways to help parents, teacher and children the better off we all are! I hope your daughter-in-law likes it too. Thank-you! ~Dr Lisa

Dr. Lisa September 10, 2014

Katrina, I AM so passionate about this topic because I think before having a child on the Spectrum, I just assumed kids knew how to accomplish and succeed at school and other aspects of life. Having my son be so very different (yet, appear so typical), made me question my parenting ability at first. And then I realized how each child is different and how we truly need to teach life skills and not expect them. Once that light bulb came on, helping him was so much easier!Now , I just want to share our secrets with you all! ~Dr. Lisa

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