Coping Strategies for Back-to-School Stress
In today’s blog, we will focus on basic coping strategies that you can use with your child or they can use on their own to help in managing the intensity of their feelings, whether they are anxious, frustrated, embarrassed, or overwhelmed. Not every child will be open to using all of these strategies and often, children have an understanding of what works best for them. It may be helpful for you to provide a few options or even to provide this list and allow your child to choose 2-3 to practice before the start of school approaches, so that these skills become second nature.
Talk with Your Child
You may first want to explain to your child that what they are feeling is valid, meaning it makes sense that they would feel scared or overwhelmed when faced with a new and unfamiliar situation. Experiencing new teachers, learning new material, and engaging with new groups of classmates can be challenging for anyone at any age and it is important that your child hear that what they are experiencing is logical or makes sense.
Help Your Child Manage Their Emotions
Once you have mirrored and validated what it is that is triggering strong emotions for your child, you can then ask them if they would like for you to help them learn new ways to bring down the intensity of those feelings. You might ask them to give a number from 0-10 rating how high their feeling feels or you can ask them to draw what the emotion looks like. By doing this, we are already separating your child from the emotion- meaning, they can begin to understand that they are feeling anxious and are not actually anxious. They are a person that feels a certain way and that feeling is ever-changing, and not constant. We want to reassure our children that with coping strategies, there are ways to respond differently to how we are feeling and manage how intensely we are feeling those emotions.
Here are some recommendations for coping strategies that can be useful to mitigate back-to-school stress:
- Sensory Kits- Create a sensory kit that is school-appropriate. (You may want to check with teachers ahead of time to see what they allow or do not allow your child to hold while in class) Items might include fidget spinners/cubes, putty, push pop bubble fidget toy, rubik’s cube, stress ball, gum, sour candies, spicy candies, mints, lotion that has a smell they like, something rough textured, something that is soft, etc.
- Lunchbox Notes- Consider creating a fun activity that will help your child look forward to getting through part of their day, by sending notes in their lunchbox or backpack. Keep this up as a routine and let them know you are thinking about them and that they can write you notes back telling you about their day if they like.
- Favorite Playlist- Have your child create a playlist of songs that help them relax or feel good and have the playlist ready when they have a chance to listen to their headphones on a break or during down periods
- Art Supply Bag- If your child prefers expressing themselves through drawing, then sending them with a bag of colored pencils or markers may be a great way to promote doodling throughout the day. Doodling can help reduce anxiety in class as well as help your child focus on what is being taught by getting them out of their thoughts
- Deep Breathing Coping Cards- You may want to write down different breathing strategies onto index cards and place them somewhere in their backpack so that they can easily access them if needed throughout the day.
- Organization of Back to School Supplies- Some children may be comforted by creating a list of items that they need and being able to organize their back-to-school supplies ahead of time to relieve stress. If you are able to, allow your child to make choices about what items they purchase (at your discretion, of course) and allow them to take ownership of this transitional process. Choosing their backpack and first day outfit may be smalls steps in getting them more excited about the new school year.
- Print out coloring pages/word searches/sudoku puzzles- mandalas and other intricate designs can be an effective way to help your child ease their anxiety in between classes and when they have down time. Provide a box of colored pencils with the print outs in a folder to keep them safe and organized. Sudoku and crossword puzzles are also a great way to help your child refocus and distract from feeling anxious.
- Visit the new school if it is a building your child has not been to and help them learn the routes to their classrooms- you may want to draw a visual map if your child would find that helpful
- Visualization- You can let your child know that their mind is powerful and just as much as they can imagine the worst case scenario happening, they can also cope ahead by preparing their mind for success. Allow them to visualize themselves having a first day in which they are able to ask for help when they are confused, they are able to see their friends from last year on the bus, and are able to make new friends at the lunch table.
- Conversation starters- you and your child may want to role-play different conversation starters to ease the social anxiety that they might be experiencing with the thought of making new friends or talking to people they have not met yet.
There are many different strategies that may be effective. Most importantly, allowing your child to know that it is okay to be nervous, afraid or even embarrassed going into the first day of unknown territory is understandable and relatable. Let them know they are not alone and that you are going to be with them to help them face these difficult feelings.
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