A Parent’s Cheat Sheet to the August Jitters

Special needs mom, Clinical and School Psychologist
08/14/19  9:07 AM PST

A new school year is approaching and for many students with special needs, the anxiety is likely growing. As a parent, you begin to notice this pattern each summer and you may not know exactly how to soothe your child other than to say, “You’re going to be fine,” which is nice, but just not enough. You may notice a general level of agitation, argumentativeness, restlessness, constant chattiness about school, or avoiding the topic of school all together.

How can you help ease your child’s anxiety about going back to school?

Take a field trip…. to school

Everyone loves a field trip, so pack the kids in the car with a snack because we’re going to school! It may sound silly but take your child to his school and walk around the playground, the main door, and the door at which your child will wait in the morning. If your child takes the bus, review the routine: “The bus stops here. You come out here and walk to over there.”   If you drive your child to school, show her where you will drop off and the path that she will use to go to her waiting area until the bell rings.

Play on his playground so that your child develops a sense of comfort after a long summer break. If the school building is open, take a walk around the area and hall where your child’s class is likely to be.

Even though this may be your child’s 3rd, 4th or 5th year in the same school, visiting the school building while it is empty may help your child to feel like the school building and playground are not as intimidating as she imagined them to be.

Get Ready Together

Use the month of August to buy school materials instead of rushing during the last week or few days before the first day of school. That makes a parent anxious which makes a child anxious. Instead, take your time and browse around for the ‘perfect’ lunch box, backpack, sneakers, etc. Let your son or daughter think about the character he/she wants or the color or pattern. Turn it into an exploration mission if you need to! Also, pair up your shopping trip with a fun picnic lunch or a play date. The more positive the association, the better!

Talk About It

In many homes, the topic that causes anxiety is an avoided one. Well, don’t avoid it, talk about it! Ask your daughter, “What do you think 5th grade is going to be like?” And let her tell you about what her worries are. If she is concerned about the amount of homework she’s going to have, ask her, “How do you think you’ll be able to get your homework done?” Instead of trying to solve the problem by offering a tutor, yourself, or your neighbor, encourage your child to problem solve (“I hear what you’re worrying about. How do you think you can manage your homework?”). By brainstorming and coming up with more than one possible solution to the problem, you are building your child’s ability to solve her problem, which has a positive effect on self-esteem. Also, she won’t rely on you to come up with solutions especially because you won’t be with her every day all day when small and big dilemmas arise.

Plan on Play Dates or Get-togethers

Call up other moms and plan a get together with a bunch of your child’s classmates so that your child is not seeing his peers for the first time after two months of a summer break.  This gives them the chance to re-connect at a time when it’s not awkward or uncomfortable. Instead, they will have already ‘broken the ice’ again and will be able to talk or play with a sense of ease.

For children starting Kindergarten, plan on a Kindergarten Bunch where you meet with other students on the playground several times over the summer. Find a contact from the PTA and see if you can gain the names of a few mothers of other Kindergarten students. A few moms and a few kids is all you need to ease the first day of Kindergarten nervousness and tears.

Pack a Friend

I don’t mean literally, but rather pack a small toy, note, or something of yours that your child can reach for or hold while transitioning from home to school. It may bring some comfort in knowing that you are there even though you aren’t really there. Some common items that bring comfort are a small stuffed animal packed in your child’s back pack or a small laminated picture of the family in his pocket.

Going back to school after a two month break can be overwhelming for any child. Use any or all of the strategies listed above and hopefully, you and your child will be able to enjoy the end of the summer and the beginning of a new school year.

We would love to hear from you – what advice can you offer your fellow mommies on how to take care of themselves?

Dr. Liz Matheis


Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and certified School Psychologist who specializes in working with children with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, Learning Disabilities, and behavioral struggles. She is also mom to three children, one with special needs. Her practice, Psychological and Education Consulting, is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

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