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August 3, 2023

Addressing Back-to-School Anxiety—Your Questions Answered

We know that as students, school staff, and families approach back-to-school time, nerves can mix with anticipation and excitement with anxiety as everyone prepares to head back to the classroom. This understanding inspired our webinar, Back-to-School Anxiety and Coping Strategies for Students, Family Members, and School Staff.

During this conversation, our panelists discussed reasons for back-to-school anxiety, observable indicators, and coping methods, while sharing solutions for those experiencing or navigating back-to-school anxiety. Many of you asked excellent questions and during our limited time together, we were only able to address a handful of them. Below you will find the rest of your questions answered!

How many stages of Anxiety are there for teachers?

Anxiety has four levels: mild, moderate, severe, and panic.

Stage 1. Feeling anxious and wanting to deal with it.

Stage 2. Attempting to avoid the situation.

Stage 3. Feeling a temporary sense of relief.

Stage 4. Returning to a state of heightened anxiety.

How can you tell if a student’s anxiety is real or “fake”? And if you are able to know it’s fake how do you deal with it?

Anxiety disorders are real, serious medical conditions – just as real and serious as physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes. If an individual is “faking” anxiety, there may be an underlying reason for that also tied to mental health. You may see inconsistencies. Psychologists and doctors look for patterns of emotions or behaviors that cause significant challenges to an individual’s daily life.

Is there a link to the film? Where can we find contact information and resources from the presenters?

You can follow the link here for more information about the film and resources.

How do you combat school avoidance at that level? How can you foster and support healthier behaviors that still address anxious feelings?

School avoidance/refusal is challenging. Ensuring each student is known and has a trusted adult at school to assist and support them when things get hard for the student is key to preventing avoidance. Making sure the school and classrooms are safe places for students, for learning, and for community is imperative as well. Teaching kids about nervousness, worries, and anxieties can provide a model of vulnerability and coping skills students who may avoid might be able to use early on in the anxiety cycle.

Where do you go from there when your child won’t go?

All behavior is purposeful and a form of communication. It’s possible the student doesn’t feel safe at school or has another specific reason they can’t put into words. When a child won’t go to school, it is important for the student’s team to communicate and problem-solve collaboratively. Ask the child what would help them come to school on a daily basis. Be flexible, and understand even small progress is good. Work with families, keeping the child at the center of the conversation, to develop scaffolds to the student retaining and a specific proactive plan to maintain progress.

Can you share some observations you may have seen for students with ASD and anxiety?

Changes to routines can be a challenge, so try to proactively communicate with the student multiple times in a variety of modalities about the upcoming change and plan/practice their response to scenarios, if needed. Social situations, like group work, can also be a struggle. Providing group members with roles and responsibilities in the group can help everyone better participate. Learning and practicing social skills through social stories, role play, and/or video modeling can help alleviate some social challenges.

Do you associate depression with anxiety? Or is it something separate?

Anxiety and depression are two different diagnoses, and some people have both.

How can you get parents on board when they see mindfulness as a waste of time?

Educate them a bit at a time with mindfulness ideas and research in your newsletter. Host a mindfulness night where parents can learn more about it. Host Angst. Explain how it works in the classroom, or invite them to observe/participate. Let them know that these few minutes of proactive calming increase learning, focus, and self-control.

What about high school students? Students don’t know who their teachers will be during summer.

Encourage the family to visit the high school a couple of times during teacher workshop week to do introductions, practice navigating the school, try their locker, etc. Provide them reminders about what they do know (the courses they signed up for, where the lunchroom is, etc.) Arrange for a friendly face, a responsible peer, or a para, to meet the student at the door and then slowly phase this out.

Over my years of teaching, I have noticed an increase in parent anxiety about their child being bullied. Do you have any suggestions on how to help parents with this specific anxiety topic?

At the beginning of the year, share your bullying prevention programs/policies with the parent. Provide them a contact to communicate if their child is a victim of bullying. Acknowledge their anxiety. Ask them what would help them worry less. Provide that within reason.

Where does trauma fit in/how does it impact anxiety?

Individuals who have experienced trauma may experience anxiety in a variety of forms.

How to address a parent who doesn’t believe anxiety is a thing (due to culture or personal beliefs)?

A good starting point to help educate all community members and begin a discussion about anxiety is hosting a screening of Angst and sharing it with everyone. Educate them a bit at a time through your newsletter. Host a mindfulness night where parents can learn more about it.

Do you have strategies for the online school environment?

Google forms for daily check-ins, incorporate mindful moments or motor breaks, keep materials organized and directions clear, provide support as needed. Use a private chat or Zoom to check in on a weekly basis, if not daily.

Life is hard. So why do people with COVID get up to two weeks off and people with anxiety don’t get anything?

You raise an interesting point. Behavioral health issues are a real challenge for some as we travel through life. Kindness, consideration, and space to figure things out are often overlooked in our fast-paced, fit-in-a-box, approach to so many aspects of childhood. I look forward to the day when we innately view any challenge in life as an invitation to be more patient, empathetic, and supportive with love and curiosity. At the end of the day, every obstacle is ultimately an opportunity to learn and teach.

Some kids cope with anxiety in class by playing on their cell phones. Perhaps cell phones should not be banned in class so some kids can manage their anxiety by using their phone?

This is a great reminder. Students may have coping methods like doodling or using a sensory object, and that’s okay. Outside of school (work, bus, meetings, etc.), these things are becoming more socially acceptable. These methods can help learners attend to tasks or manage their anxiety, and they don’t disrupt or hurt anyone else.

As a teacher, my students always want to hug me. I cannot deny a hug to them but it doesn’t seem to be appreciated by my colleagues. Please advise!

Appropriate boundaries between teachers and students are always expected. It is also important to create boundaries that are age appropriate. Some pre-schoolers and primary-age students may still need a hug on occasion. Read the staff handbook to ensure you are following the guidelines. If you are still unsure, ask your mentor/coach/supervisor for advice.

Would mentioning to your students that you felt nervous earlier cause students that do not exhibit anxiety to wonder if they should be nervous?

It may, and it is okay to reassure students it’s okay not to be nervous. You could discuss nervousness on a scale that would show we all have different levels of nervousness about school. Maybe students who aren’t nervous could help a peer who is more nervous in some way.

Do the kindergarten students have anxiety or stress?

Some are just jubilant, some are mad that their playtime is being disrupted, some are anxious, and some are just a little nervous. Each child likely feels a little different about kindergarten, so it will be important to pay attention and support those who need it through reassurance, community building, etc.

Interested in hosting your own screening of Angst? Bring iMPACTFUL Conversations to Your Community!


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