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Mental Health and Back to School!

Hello there Parents, Teens and Kiddos,

It's Ms. Sadie here with a special edition of "School Time Tips and Tricks". As a teacher for 10 years, I had the special privilege of loving on many different personalities. When you are managing a classroom of 22 children, you are CONSTANTLY assessing who needs what, how and why they need it and when you can efficiently meet that need.

We are holistic beings: mind, body and soul. All of these systems are interconnected. Whatever affects the mind is also affecting the heart, and whatever ails the body is equally ailing the mind and soul.

A teacher and parent cannot see a child as just an academic "mind". While I know everyone is doing their best: I'm calling out to our American school system, to say Mental Health training for teachers is not enough as is. My fellow educators should be more equipped to handle the intricacies of the classroom. It is not all about reading, writing and math. The pressure placed on teachers is unfair and unrealistic. They are not just "instructors", in reality they play the role of "parent, therapist, counselor, nurse, accountant, coach, and educator" That is a tall order!

If classrooms were run more like a safe space, we would see greater success, because without SAFETY, there is no TRUST, and without TRUST, there is no LEARNING. This is true for adults as well!

It is one of my PASSIONS to equip parents and students to be assertive and advocate for themselves. As a teacher, I appreciated when a parent or child walked into my classroom and said, "This is what I need."

In this blog post I want to provide you with: Signs to watch for when thinking your child may struggle with anxiety, language to advocate for your child's needs in the classroom, and practical tips for your daily life at home.

Does my child have Anxiety?

Back to school anxiety is so common. Children, parents and teachers can all be nervous! Where is my classroom? Who will sit by me at lunchtime? Am I in the same class as my friend? What if my teacher doesn't like me? What if I don't have any friends? What if I get lost in the building? What if my child doesn't improve in reading? What if I get on the wrong bus home?

These are all valid concerns! However, there is a difference between "first day jitters"and an anxiety disorder. When I was little, I had a stomach ache everyday before school started, that should have been my parents FIRST clue that something was happening under the surface.

Common Symptoms of Chronic Anxiety:

  • Physical Cues: physical ailments occurring everyday: Can include, but not limited to: faster heartrate, nausea, stomach ache, irritable bowel, headaches, dizziness, feeling "unwell", having accidents at school, bedwetting, loss of appetite or unable to eat

  • Behavioral Cues: falling behind on school work, refusing to go to school, difficulty 'self-starting' in the mornings, combative behaviors at home and/or school, "shutting down or going inward", explosions of anger after school, multiple 'melt downs', dysregulated during or after school, 'people pleasing' behavior

  • Social Emotional Cues: reports of feeling "sadness", expressing chronic worried thoughts, analyzing the same scenario or thoughts aloud, nonverbal in the classroom, "shy", isolating themselves at home or school, crying

Requests for Admin and Teachers to Accommodate Your Child in the Classroom:

  • Requesting your child be placed in a spot which makes them feel safe. Example: front of the room to be nearest teacher, OR back, near a door or exit. Sometimes anxiety can cause us to feel claustrophobic and "stuck" or "trapped", therefore, a child knowing that there's wide open space and they are not trapped can be helpful. A teacher can provide a sense of safety from the things that cause anxious fear.

  • Make a "take a break" plan with the teacher: When your child becomes overwhelmed in the classroom - they need a moment to 'breathe' , going to a reading corner to look at books, walking to the bathroom, going to a sensory table are all things that can help your child to take a break from becoming overstimulated and/or calming their mind from the fast pace of the school day.

  • Bring Something From Home: Be sure to tell the teacher that your child will be bringing a small stuffed animal, special sweatshirt, picture of their family, or a special toy that makes them feel safe. Often times, objects can be very grounding for children and adults! Think, "security blankie". These items smell like home, and they are connected to relational memories, which keeps relational circuits on during the day when they are away from home and family. It builds safety and trust in the classroom, which makes room for learning!

  • Clear Schedule: The number one thing a nervous child will ask is "What are we doing next?" or "When is lunch/recess?" or "What time do we go home?" Ask the teacher to tape a copy of the classroom schedule to the child's desk. If you have a teenager who is switching classes - they can tape their schedule inside a notebook or tuck it into a clear 3 ring binder so it is visible at all times. Knowing the schedule and being able to look ahead gives the child peace of mind, when they know their routine is predictable! Remember, ROUTINES = SAFETY!!!!!

  • Built in Phone Calls: Ask the teacher(s) to set a time aside during the day (just a quick 5 minutes) in which the child can call and check in to say 'Hi' (this would be a recommendation for those with separation anxiety and/or adjustment disorder)

Creating an 'Anxiety - Friendly' Environment at Home:

TAKE CARE OF YOU: You come first. Your health, nutrition, emotional wellbeing, happiness are all a factor in how well we take care of others. Make sure that your love cup is full FIRST, before you pour love out onto those around you.

  • Timers: When it's time for homework or the next activity or dinner you can set a timer. "When the timer is done, we will be doing ...." or "When the timer is done I would like you to start your homework" I love these Sand Timers! You can get them here:

  • Clear Directions: Given in a developmentally appropriate way. 4- 5 step directions for a Kindergartner even without anxiety can be extremely overwhelming! For Teens AND Young children, keep it simple, short and clear: "Go put your coat on." or "Put your dish in the sink". (3 step directions at most)

  • Announce the Plan: Those of us with anxiety always need to know what is coming next. Think: Who,will be there. What, will we do. When, during the day is it happening. Where are we going. and Why are we doing this. Literally. For example I might set the tone like this at breakfast: "After breakfast we will go to the library at 10:00 that is in 1 hour, we will check out books with your friend from school, then we will come home for lunch and then it will be quiet time." Prepare for lots of questions after that, with the same answers, because they are checking the details and asking for reassurance.

  • Time for Play: We ALL need play. What brings your family joy? What helps you all to relax? Engage in these activities and often. Plan for fun in your schedule. What feels safest for your children? Find something that allows them to feel SUCCESS and CONFIDENCE because school is hard enough - and many of them are feeling like no one likes them, they aren't good enough, and/or school is too difficult. Many students I know engage in Karate classes, yoga, swimming classes, sports, piano lessons, ect. Children need to feel a sense of self -efficacy and built in activities like this can make that happen!

  • Downtime After School: As parents we need to understand that after school a child is coming home to be FREE. They have just spent 8 HOURS under EXTREME self-control, with teachers saying, "don't talk in class", "raise your hand", "stay in line", "be on time", no talking while working at your desk". It takes SO MUCH brain work and impulse control to be in that environment for most of your day.

You should EXPECT a melt down, or exhaustion, loudness, isolation, retreat, or an "attitude". ALL behavior is a form of communication. If your child needs 30 minutes of screen time as soon as they walk in the door to unwind... ALLOW THAT. When a child with Anxiety comes home, it's like untangling a long twisted up strand of yarn. They've been tense ALL DAY - please, just let them be little.

Supporting a child or teen with their anxiety can be difficult and taxing at times, but remember you are their place of safety and constant. The place where they can fall apart and be their most authentic self. You are the nervous system they need to borrow in times of dysregulation.

When I look back at my own anxious childhood, I wish I would have had a constant. A constant place of safety to be seen and understood.

Take heart families and keep on loving your best!


Rochelle Sadie

Looking for more support? Rochelle is offering 50 minute coaching for parents! If you need a pep talk, practical ideas or emotional support: book a session and get your love cup filled!

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