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 Jamie Pettit
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From: Friday, August 25, 2017 4:24 PM -0400
Subject:Back-to-School Wellness Tips
With the start of a new school year just around the corner, a mixed range of emotions are inevitably setting in for many students and families as they prepare for what always amounts to a transitional time.  Whether this means entering a new grade, moving to a different school or adjusting to recent school reconfigurations or amalgamations, dealing with change and uncertainty can trigger excitement, stress, and anxiety all at the same time.  

Image of apple on book with slogan, "Back2school"The good news is that conflicting feelings in these types of situations are completely normal and experienced by practically everyone.  Some keys to success that parents/guardians may want to consider include planning ahead, and maintaining open communication at home so that children can develop effective coping strategies that will position them for a happy and healthy return to school.

Bluewater District School Board is committed to fostering safe and welcoming learning environments where all students can thrive.  Bluewater’s Multi-Year Strategic Plan includes the following priority and associated goals related to wellness:

Ensure the well-being of students and staff in a safe supportive environment for teaching, learning and working
  • Provide a safe and supportive work environment that values and recognizes the personal strengths, professional contributions, and personal well-being of staff
  • Create conditions where students, staff, and parents/caregivers are comfortable and confident in seeking help and responding to student mental health and emotional well-being
Image of elementary age student holding apple and sheet displaying "A+"Experienced and caring staff are available in all Bluewater schools to answer questions and guide students and families during the back-to-school period.      

Keystone Child Youth & Family Services: Owen Sound Family Health Team provides the following tips for parents based on information gathered from the website

Worries are Common.  
Anxious children and teens worry about many different school-related issues, such as teachers, friends, fitting in, and/or being away from their parents.  Some common worries include: 
  Who will be my new teacher?     What if my new teacher is mean?
  Will any of my friends be in my class?     Will I fit in?
  Are my clothes OK?     Will I look stupid?    Who will I sit with at lunch?
                                                                           What if I can’t understand the new schoolwork?     What if I miss the bus?
                                                                           What if something bad happens to mom or dad while I am at school?

Although it is normal for your child to have worries, it is crucial to make your child attend school.  Avoidance of school will only increase and reinforce your child’s fears over the long-term, and make it increasingly more difficult to attend.

Image of outdoor playground equipmentBesides missing school work, children and teens who stay home because of anxiety miss:
  • valuable opportunities to develop and practice social skills
  • important chances for success and mastery
  • being acknowledged and praised for talents
  • fostering close friendships with classmates
Most importantly, anxious children and teens who miss school cannot gather evidence that challenges their unrealistic and catastrophic fears!

Below are some general strategies parents can use to deal with back-to-school worries,
followed by a schedule leading up to the first day of school.

Image of fruit bowlsLook after the basics.  Nobody copes well when they are tired or hungry.  Anxious children often forget to eat, don’t feel hungry, and don’t get enough sleep.  Provide frequent and nutritious snacks for your child.   During this time, you also need to build in regular routines, so that life is more predictable for your child.  These routines can involve the morning and bedtime habits, as well as eating schedules.

Image of purple button face iconEncourage your child to share his or her fears.  Ask your child what is making him or her worried.  Tell your child that it is normal to have concerns.  Before and during the first few weeks of school, set up a regular time and place to talk.  Some children feel most comfortable in a private space with your undivided attention (such as right before bed, or during mealtime).  Teens often welcome some sort of distraction to cut the intensity of their worries and feelings (such as driving in the car, or taking a walk).
Avoid giving reassurance...instead, problem-solve and plan!  Children often seek reassurance that bad things won’t happen in order to reduce their worry.  Do not assure them with “Don’t worry!” or “Everything will be fine!”  Instead, encourage your child to think of ways to solve his or her problem.  For example, “If (the worst) happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation.”  This gives you the opportunity to coach your child on how to cope with (and interpret) both real and imagined scary situations.  You will also be giving your child the tools he or she needs to cope with an unexpected situation that might arise.

Image of student drawing on chalk boardRole-play with your child.  Sometimes role-playing a certain situation with your child can help him or her make a plan, and feel more confident that he or she will be able to handle the situation.  For example, let your child play the part of the demanding teacher or bullying classmate.  Then, model appropriate responses and coping techniques for your child, to help them calm down.

Focus on the positive aspects!  Encourage your child to re-direct attention away from the worries, and towards the positives.  Ask your child, "What are three things that you are most excited about on your first day of school?"  Most kids can think of something good, even if it's just eating a special snack or going home at the end of the day.  Chances are that the fun aspects are simply getting overlooked by repetitive worries.
Image of teacher writing on chalk board: The word "can't" crossed out with "can" written underneath it
Image of cartoon pencil smiling with arms outstretchedPay attention to your own behavior.  It can be anxiety-provoking for parents to hand over care and responsibility of their child to teachers.  Children take cues from their parents, so the more confidence and comfort you can model, the more your child will understand there is no reason to be afraid.  Be supportive yet firm.  When saying goodbye in the morning, say it cheerfully – once!  Ensure you don’t reward your child’s protests, crying, or tantrums by allow him or her to avoid going to school.  Instead, in a calm tone, say:  “I can see that going to school is making you scared, but you still have to go.  Tell me what you are worried about, so we can talk about it.”  Chances are, your child is anxious about something that requires a little problem-solving, role- playing, planning, and/or involvement from the teacher.

Timeline Leading Up to the First Day of School (You may not need to take all of these steps)

At least one week before:
  • Start your child on a school-day routine – waking up, eating, and going to bed at regular times.
  • Explain that everyone in the family needs to adjust to the new schedule, so he or she doesn’t feel alone with these changes.
  • For older children who are having troubles getting up and out of bed, give them a “big person” alarm clock, and let them practice using it.
  • Ask your child to help plan school lunches for the first week.
  • Create a list of school supplies together and plan a fun shopping trip.
  • Teach and practice coping skills to use when feeling nervous, such as how to do calm breathing, and developing and using cognitive coping cards.

Image of numbers counting down: "3 2 1..."A couple days before school:
Go to school several times – walking, driving, or taking the bus.  For young children taking the school bus, describe and draw out the bus route, including where the bus goes and how long it takes to get to school.  Talk about bus safety.  For new students, take a tour of the school. Show your child the classrooms, the cafeteria, and the bathrooms.  If possible, meet your child’s teacher with your child present.  Ask your child to help choose the outfits for the first week of school.  Let your child wear his or her favorite outfit on the first day.  Together with your child, pack up the schoolbag the night before, including treats.  For younger children who are nervous about separating, suggest taking a special object to school that reminds him or her of home.  A reassuring note in a child’s lunch can also help ease separation anxiety.

Image of front of school busThe first day of school:
Have your child go to school with a friend for the first couple of days.  Tell the teacher that your child is having some separation anxiety – most teachers are experts in this area, and have years of experience!  Most importantly, praise and reward your child for brave behavior!

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