With August on the horizon, most families are trying to savor the last month of summer. For many parents, students and teachers, embedded within the end of the summer is also the anticipated transition back into a new school year. For some families this might be a happy change, while for others, transitions can be a time of stress. The “unknowns” of a new school year can create feelings of anxiety, which can affect the whole family. While everyone experiences anxious feelings in their own way, there are steps you can take to mitigate the stress of a transition.
1. Increase predictability through routine
While it is recommended to re-establish a sleep and wake cycle consistent to the anticipated school schedule a week beforehand (Fritz, 2014), you can ease into a new schedule even earlier. Changing a bedtime routine by 10-15 minute increments is discrete enough for most children to gradually adjust, and will eventually get you to the new routine over the course of weeks. Fatigue and exhaustion can contribute to anxiety and moodiness, so ensuring that your family is getting enough sleep when school starts can be one less factor to worry about.
2. Increase comfort through familiarity
Anxiety can be a reaction to anticipating a bad outcome, or a “worst case scenario.” Envisioning what potentially can happen prepares us mentally, but when we anticipate a distressing outcome, it is natural to be wrought with worry. Exposure to what is “real” and “actual” helps to reduce stress over what we picture “could” happen. Knowing the items on an exam before taking the test would certainly boost a person’s confidence in their performance. Visiting a classroom, meeting a teacher, playdates with classmates BEFORE starting the school year could help to ease a student’s worry by providing them with pieces of “known” data.
3. Increase confidence through preparation
Having the tools needed in the classroom can create a sense of comfort and confidence. Imagine, it’s the first day of school, and a teacher asks their students to pull out their calculator. Now imagine the feeling a student would experience if they did not bring a calculator to school. How do you think that would affect their confidence and comfort going into the second day of school? Going through the checklist of school supplies and expectations with your family members BEFORE starting school will increase their confidence in their preparation and improve their comfort.
4. Increase confidence through choice and empowerment
Not every moment of the first few days of the new school year will go perfectly, but letting your child know that you believe that they can handle the bumps in the road will provide more support for their confidence. Allowing your student to feel as if they have some control over themselves and their world creates a sense of empowerment. Providing opportunities for your child to feel that they have some effect on their lives, and you trust that they can make good decisions, helps to build confidence within themselves. What do you want to wear tomorrow? It is homework time, what would you like to work on first? Even if it is a choice between two options (I can drop you off or you can take the bus), creates a sense of ownership. Feelings of powerlessness can contribute to anxiety, so offering opportunities to feel more in control of their world creates some sense of empowerment.
5. Let us help
Lastly, if you feel that anxiety or worry is affecting your loved one negatively, help is available. Here at Etheridge Psychology, we offer individual anxiety counseling for children, adolescents, and adults. We use cognitive behavioral therapy, which is an established effective intervention for the treatment of anxiety. We also offer an intensive anxiety and stress group for teens. If your high school student is suffering from excessive worrying or stress, they are not alone. Group therapy provides an excellent resource for support and skills building to alleviate stress.
From everyone at Etheridge Psychology – we hope that you enjoy the remainder of your summer!