Dr. Laura Olivos
Tips on Navigating School Anxiety
Happy 1st day of school here in beautiful Miami-Dade county! I wanted to share some helpful tips for any of you who have a child that struggles with school related anxiety. We would also like to preface with reminding you that these tips are best implemented with the help and guidance of a licensed mental health professional, as each child’s needs and clinical presentation is unique.
1. First, take a breath. We want to ensure we are the calm in their storm and that begins by knowing how to regulate our own daily anxieties. If it takes you pausing for a moment to do some deep breathing or grounding, go for it! It may prove to be a powerful way to model to your child that you are navigating big feelings too in a positive way.
2. Validate and reflect the child’s feelings under 10 words. For example, “Sally, I can see you’re really upset about school.” Try to avoid lecturing or engaging in ways to reason with them in that moment. The part of the brain that is in overdrive is indicated in more primal responses and the “logical” part of the brain is more muted.
3. Once they are able to engage a little, provide them a choice of some form of a coping skill they can utilize with you to help (i.e. taking a belly breath, taking a walk, hugging a stuffed animal, drawing how they feel, etc.). You can also provide choices of how they’d like to go about a certain routine to get ready for school, etc. Choices can provide relief and a feeling of control over a situation they may not feel a lot of predictability with yet.
4. Arrange some acclimation with their teacher to go to school a little earlier than the other children to get settled in without too much stimulation at once. If comfortable and appropriate, share with your child’s teacher what works best for them when upset or missing you.
5. Identify an “attachment object” to let the child take with them during their transition from home to the classroom. Some children find comfort in fuzzy stuffed animals, carrying a picture of their parents, or a tool to aid in grounding them.
6. Create a feelings plan with them at home they can take to school, where you can draw out little visuals reminding them of things they can do to cope! If appropriate, share this with their teacher.
7. Identify a safe space at school they can go to if they become overly anxious. For example, if they feel connected to their guidance counselor, they can utilize a “brain break” or “calming break” to visit them to practice their coping skills.
8. Make a reward chart delineating a couple specific behaviors in their morning routine related to their school transition.
9. Stay in open communication with your child and teacher as to what triggers may be present in the school environment. For example, did the child experience any bullying or perhaps they’ve heard of recent tragic news stories of school violence? What is precipitating this fear? Careful assessment is always necessary.
Obviously, there is so much more we would list on here, but each case can be unique and children can respond differently to specific strategies. As always, we are here to empower you and support you.
Here’s to a beautiful school year! 🌿