Psychologist offers tips to mentally prepare kids for new school year

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Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 12:37 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As day-to-day functions become more normal, some students are questioning what the return to in-person learning will look like, resulting in anxious feelings.

“We know that uncertainty can be a major driver of anxiety for some people,” Brian Leitzke, a pediatric psychologist at UW Health said.

According to Leitzke, there are several things that families can do now to help make the transition back to school a little easier for kids and parents. Some recommendations include:

Plan ahead – Parents should start talking to their kids now about what school may look like in the fall.

Reviewing the school’s general framework or, if possible, touring the facilities could provide predictability. If your child is worried about face-to-face interactions in large groups, practice with small groups over the summer to build confidence.

Prepare for the unexpected – There’s always the possibility that the school year could be disrupted again by a surge in COVID-19 cases. Discuss what that might look like for your family.

Provide structure and predictability – When kids’ lives are filled with uncertainty, structure and predictability can be especially comforting.

Be sure to develop and stick to specific morning, evening and sleep routines during the school year. If possible, provide consistent after-school activities that they can look forward to.

Practicing and role modeling these routines yourself will also help reinforce consistency and what is expected of your child.

Talk about worries/anxieties – Asking kids about what they are looking forward to about the upcoming school year, or what they think might be different than previous years, can offer clues about how they’re feeling.

Parents should also stick to the facts and keep their own anxieties or opinions about the school year out of the conversation.

Should your child identify things they are anxious about, talk about ways to address the issue and practice coping strategies to manage their anxiety, such as taking pauses, deep breathing, or finding opportunities to take a break.

Review and adjust IEP and 504 plans – Parents of kids with special needs should review the current accommodations in their special education plans and consider making changes that could help address any current or anticipated concerns based on possible changes at school.

Reaching out sooner rather than later can help ensure appropriate accommodations are in place by the beginning of the school year.

Leitzke says parents should also find out what resources are available at school for kids who are struggling during the school day.

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