Back to school can be a super exciting time, but with that excitement can come some anxiety and uncertainty. Over the past few years, social interaction and school environment has been anything but stable – all virtual, then in-person. Half in class, half virtual. Some extracurricular activities allowed – others not. Not to mention the very turbulent political atmosphere that inevitably seeps into everything, the fear of in-school violence, and the influences from social media. Did I forget anything?
Now I don’t mean to be negative, there are many positive things happening that we can look forward to this school year, like seeing friends, a fresh start, in-person classes and extracurricular activities. We are also paying WAY more attention to our mental health needs as a society in general and working on creating a more inclusive community.
To me, this seems like a lot of highs and a lot of lows. A rollercoaster that none of us asked to be on. So how do we find balance this year after the hot-mess express we are departing from.
First, let’s consider some of the struggles our youth (and adults) face with back to school:
– Uncertainty: Oh boy. I am sure we are all tired of uncertainty. But in reality, uncertainty is something we cannot escape – so it is actually helpful for us to understand this feeling, and work through it. Uncertainty can come from changing COVID protocols, uncertainty about the classes, school, friends – basically almost everything. Uncertainty is basically that uncomfortable feeling of not being in CONTROL, i.e. the unknown (cue spooky music).
– Separation anxiety: Just as my dog experienced separation anxiety when I stopped working from home, we can experience separation anxiety when returning to school! Separation anxiety might look like a child not wanting to leave their parents at drop off or maybe a feeling that occurs when one sibling is moving up to college. But it could also come in the form of resistance to change or even physical symptoms.
– Social anxiety: Social anxiety is something that might occur even outside of this transition. The anxiety might be surrounding COVID-19 exposure, making friends, or a fear of embarrassment in front of people, to name a few. Here are a few tips to ease ‘back to school’ anxiety.
– Change: Change, Change, Change. Another thing we are tired of but still something that we will always have to deal with. Think of how many changes occur for a kid and teen going to school this year – different locker, different classes (which might create different social groups and dynamics), different teachers, a change in morning and night routine, HOMEWORK, RESPONSIBILITIES, – must I go on? There are so, so, so many changes we go through during the transition back to school that we are all expected to adapt to!
– Expectations: This article on back to school tips stated it perfectly: “this is the year.” We have all had this thought – This year will be different; I will be better – I will DO better. These statements only set unrealistic expectations which translates to A LOT OF PRESSURE to anyone going back to school.
So, what can we do to support ourselves and our kids?
– Structure and Stability: When there is so much uncertainty and change, it is helpful to have stability and structure. For back to school, create a schedule – not too strict – just enough to have a routine to fall back on. Practice this schedule for the week(s) before school starts to get back into the groove of things. And most importantly – and this goes for adults, parents, and kids – don’t get discouraged if you have days that don’t go according to plan. LIFE HAPPENS.
– Safe Environments: Create spaces and outlets to go when things get tough or overwhelming. This can be a space in the house that is designated to one kid or teen or even a spot that is the household’s chill zone where you decompress. If physical space is an issue, then create blocks of time specifically for quiet time or alone time – this point is especially important in larger households – we love our siblings, but sometimes it can be a lot or hard to recognize when we need a break.
– Visit, Plan, and Prepare: Visit the school, find classrooms or lockers, attend any welcome events – these activities can help reduce some fears about a new school year. Plan out what a typical day might look like. For example, what time the bus comes to who will be home when school gets out. Prepare for school (this one might look differently for everyone!). Whether that be new notebooks or getting back out the ones from the year before, any preparation can help reduce adding extra stress to an already overwhelming time.
– Realistic Expectations: As we talked about before, it is common to think “this year will be the one!”, which may set some unrealistic expectations about the outcome of an entire year. There are so many factors that are out of our control that can affect how a school year might go. If we set expectations that are surrounding things in our control, then we can prevent pushing blame onto ourselves when things out of our control happen. So instead of “this year I will be popular”, we can reframe that to “I am going to grow my social circle and make new friends this year!”. We can even change this to setting goals for ourselves. Instead of “this is the year I will do better!”, we can get more specific and set a goal of turning in assignments on time or even early.
– Support: There are so many resources available to anyone going back to school this year. Most students can seek support through a guidance counselor, school social worker, teacher, and family. When there is many more support needed, working with a professional might be necessary. At Therapyology, we have multiple group programs that create a safe place to go over all of the things’ kids and teens experience in and out of school. For the teens entering adulthood, we have now introduced Camp Therapyology University to address those unique changes they are dealing with!
Regardless of this year being your first year of school, your last, or somewhere in-between, it is an exciting time that can come along with different challenges. The main take-aways to kick off this school year is to be prepared and get organized, but also give yourself grace when you make mistakes – we are human after all! Make sure to remember that some things are out of your control and setting attainable goals for yourself can help prevent that self-blame when things don’t go according to plan. Lastly, ask for help. There are so many different resources to help you during the back-to-school transition.
Check out our website for more information about our Camp Therapyology program happening this fall!
Good luck to all students, teachers, and families this year!
You got this!