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Easing Back to School Anxiety
By Joel Shaul, LCSW

With the beginning of a new school year, anxiety can have a way of settling in and troubling young students. Many children become acquainted with schoolmates smoothly and easily, while other children, whether due to anxiety, temperament, or other issues may struggle with establishing a peer social network.

Anxiety can take many forms and occur in young students for a variety of reasons, especially when encountering changes such as returning to school after a summer break.

An effective way to manage anxiety is to encourage your child to engage in positive social connections such as joining a club, sports team or engaging in extracurricular activities. Studies confirm the importance of and the need for children and adolescents to form social bonds with their peers.

Here are a few additional ways parents and professionals can support children who are experiencing anxiety as they prepare to return to school:

Try obtaining a copy of last year’s school yearbook, or visit the school’s website, to review with your child. Go over the photos of staff and students to become familiar with names and identify common interests.

Make a list of students or teachers your child may already know and come up with useful facts about each individual and write them down. A fun way to do this activity is to print out an outline of a head (available in free online images) and draw words and pictures inside the outline to represent facts and interests of each student.

In particular, students with Autism Spectrum Disorder may struggle with forming meaningful social connections. These students may also benefit from a review of basic questions and conversation starters. It may be helpful to create a short list of words and phrases your child can use to start a conversation if they feel uncomfortable or anxious about making a social connection.  For some children, a group organized for the purpose of building social skills may also be helpful.

All of these activities can ease anxiety for the child, and help support the bond between parent and child.

Joel Shaul, LCSW, is a Mental Health Therapist at the Watson Institute, a special education organization which offers licensed, approved private school programs as well as outpatient mental health services such as social skills groups, therapy, and evaluations. For more information, visit www.thewatsoninstitute.org or call (412) 749-2889.

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