News From Your School Psychologist

August 31st Edition: Back to School ANXIETY

3 Tools to get you through the first month

Back to school typically creates a myriad of emotions. But this year, nervous jitters look more like anxiety and panic, as the only reliable and consistent force in the world seems to be ambiguity. Students, teachers, and parents are full of big feelings. On one hand, we want our kids back to school and developing their learning and promoting their social relationships. And parents need a break and some distance from the relentless 16-hour days of parenting. On the other hand, we have become so enmeshed in our children's life that the idea of them leaving and being responsible for wearing a mask and living their own lives at school is daunting. We want our kids to be social, yet kids must play from afar and play games that avoid interaction. Lots of mixed messages.

Tool 1: Circle of Control

If I could recommend one graphic to parents and children alike, it would be the "Circle of Control." This one is on my refrigerator. You can also use a blank template and have your child personalize it. A picture is worth 1000 words. It is especially helpful for those children who are "black and white thinkers," which developmentally is where many of our K-2 students are at.
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Tool 2: Size of the Problem Chart

After being home with your children for 6 months and counting, you may find yourself sick of the fighting and complaining. It is easy to respond with anger and frustration, especially if you are trying to work from home. Instead, ask your child, "What is the size of the problem?" or "Is this a small, medium, or large problem?" It takes some examples and experience, but once children get familiar with this tool, you may make a key that says, "Size 5 problem--Get my mom and dad from their call." "Size 1 and 2 problems-I will solve myself."
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Practice this with scenarios that come up at home. If you have a problem in your day, model the decision making process by talking yourself through it. For example, "Oh no! I can't find the shirt I want to wear. I guess I can just wear a different one. I can look for it later when I have time. I guess it is a small problem."

Tool 3: Bed-Time Cards

After 6 months of every day being "Blursday," kids have been staying up later and later. With school and learning beginning, we know it is time to get them to bed earlier. However, with increased anxiety at the beginning of school, bedtime can become more challenging. Two tips...

1. Bedtime is not the time to be discussing big worries and anxiety in depth. Try asking before or after dinner, "Is there anything you want to talk about?" Most parents will find that at 5 pm, their child will say, "No," and continue playing. But then like magic, when you are leaving their room at night, they have so many worries. However, you can say, "remember, now is not the time to talk about all of that. We talked about it earlier." Or they can write it down or draw it in a journal to discuss tomorrow.

2. Give your child a mental assignment to avoid the power struggle (see Bedtime Battles below).

Bed Time “Brain Assignments”

Oftentimes, bedtime can be a difficult time for families. Even if you have a ritual of reading a story and tucking your child in, your kids may make many attempts to “stall” or prolong the bedtime now more than ever. With the recent changes in schedules, time indoors, and over-enmeshment with the nuclear family, separation difficulty at bedtime may be more problematic. Children need their sleep and parents really need the time alone to decompress and/or do work.

The absolute prerequisite for sleep is a quiet mind. In times of anxiety, kids need to think of something else, rather than what’s worrying them. It can be anything of interest, but of no importance, so they can devote some brain energy to it without clashing into the real world and going straight back to worries.

Each night, try leaving them one of these “brain assignments.” If your child can read, you can even slip it under the door, signaling that it is time for sleep. This brain task can replace feelings of sadness or loneliness with a structured sense of purpose. Tell them that you will do the assignment during bedtime as well. Then at breakfast, you can debrief and share what you came up with.

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Kid's Guide to Change

I've always used this "Guide to Change for kids," powerpoint with students from Jill Kuzma, SLP. I think it is simple and kid friendly.

Clink link or picture below to see me showing the powerpoint

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Susan Stutzman child therapist discusses 5 ways to emotionally prepare your child

1. Talk about the Plan

2. Talk about why there are changes to the plan

3. Talk about feelings about change of plans

4. Alternative ways to show feelings in safe way and gain control

5. What things are staying the same?

Helpful Tid Bits

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