Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Eight Ways to Reduce Back-to-School Anxiety

Back to School
I'm sharing with my SNAPPIN' readers a guest blog I wrote for Ellen Stumbo.  You can read the original post here.
O LORD; teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4 NRS)
When I was a child, back to school came with lots of excitement and the good kind of anticipation. For my son on the autism spectrum, it was a very different experience.   Early on, we didn’t have anything close to a smooth transition when the school doors flung wide, welcoming all the little people who had become somewhat bigger people over the summer. As the first few years got off to bumpy starts, I found my son who is on the autism spectrum grew anxious about the start of the school year. I started to worry too. Would my son have a teacher who was a good fit for his needs?  Would he be able to cope with the social strain? Would he handle all the new material he needed to learn? Would he be safe from bullies? Would he make just one friend that year?
Dear God, is it asking too much for the answer to all of those questions to be “yes?”
For both of us, the sense of anxiety about back to school had much to do with the unknown. What happened to the “fun” part of back-to-school that I had known?  I was determined to help him have some happy memories by making what felt unknown become familiar instead.  Here are a few strategies that worked well for my family:
  • Brush up on academic skills. Math skills were always a challenge and hard-won gains eroded quickly over the summer. We found a math tutor who did a two-week intensive, meeting one-on-one an hour a day.
  • Review lists of back to school supplies with your child’s therapists. Check for alternate suggestions that best suit your child’s needs and motor skill abilities. Also, schedule ongoing after school therapy appointments. Therapist’s schedules fill quickly in those coveted afterschool hours. Booking early will help reserve the time slot that best fits the rhythm of your family and minimize disruption.
  • Make a “First Day Plan.” Navigating crowded hallways can be overwhelming to children with sensory issues, especially if he or she already has anxiety about a new routine. Introduce your child to their “go to” people, such as the school nurse, cafeteria monitor, and so forth. We used to arrange a time before school began, apart from the hectic “meet your teacher” night, and find the route to classroom, library, cafeteria, nurse’s office, and restrooms.
  • Avoid unnecessary embarrassment by having a spare change of clothes and underwear tucked away at school, just in case.
  • Help your child connect with other children he or she already knows who will be in the classroom. A familiar face on the first day of school can help alleviate anxiety.
  • Get in the groove ahead of time. Adjust bedtime and waking time to match the back-to-school schedule during the week before school. Experiment with lunch. The first day goes so much better if a picky eater is willing to eat what is packed in their lunchbox. What they ate happily a few months ago may suddenly be less appealing. Try doing a full dress rehearsal of getting ready for the first day and keep it fun rather than rushed.
  • Plan to do something simple, but special to your child after the first day. It may take a few weeks to get into a settled routine and that is alright. Celebrate even small victories along the way.
  • Pray for your child each day and give over to God all that is outside of your control.
These are a few ways that my family made back-to-school fun again.  I’d love to hear what works for your family.
Calming God, help sooth anxiety for those worried about the new school year.  Open pathways for understanding and  hope in a new school year. And please bless each child with one good friend. Amen
Photo “Back to School” by Nuttakit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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