Managing Back to School Anxiety

Managing Back To School Anxiety

Episode Description

Going back to school after summer vacation can be a stressful time for both kids and parents. The transition from the unstructured summer to a more regimented routine can lead to stress and anxiety. Worries about fitting in, bullying, homework, getting to school on time, and dealing with peer pressure are all additional stressors that may weigh on children when it's time to go back to school. In this episode of “Mind Your Mind,” Tim Unsinn speaks with Therapist Falan Johnson. Falan helps us understand why back to school anxiety is common, provides strategies for managing the added stress, and shares resources parents can use to prepare their children for the new school year.

What to Expect

  • Discussion about typical stressors for kids and families.
  • Strategies for managing stress.
  • Community resources.

Things to Think About

  • How can you create an open and honest environment for your child?
  • What strategies might work to establish routines that work for you and your family?
  • Is puberty impacting your children as they return to school?
  • What resources are available in your school or community to help your child adjust?

About the Guest


Falan provides therapy for children, adolescents, and young adults ages 7 - 25. She believes it is her job to meet clients where they’re at and provide services specific to their needs. Falan is honored to be a positive change agent in the lives of people who come into her office. She believes in a holistic approach, not only considering the person as an individual, but as part of a greater working system. Falan earned her master’s degree in Social Work from the University of North Dakota. She is certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

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Managing Back to School Anxiety

Featuring Falan Johnson, LCSW, Dakota Family Services

Tim Unsinn: Welcome to Mind Your Mind, a podcast presented by Dakota Family Services, an outpatient behavioral health clinic located in Minot, Bismarck, and Fargo, North Dakota. In this podcast, I will talk with our experts about understanding and nurturing our mental health and wellness. I'm your host, Tim Unsinn. Join me each episode as we explore the intricacies of our minds, decrease the stigma of mental illness, learn practical tips for managing our mental health and well-being, and recognize when it's time to ask for help. Join me now to mind your mind.

TU: Welcome to this episode of Mind Your Mind. Our guest is Falan Johnson. Falan is an outpatient behavioral health therapist on the Fargo campus and provides outpatient therapy for ages 7 to 25. Falan, it is great to have you on Mind Your Mind. Our topic is managing back-to-school anxiety. However, before we get to the topic, the first question up, why do you do what you do?

Falan Johnson: Hi, thanks for having me, Tim. Why do I do what I do? I think, you know, if I was really gonna try to narrow it down to one thing, I think it's connection. So it's kinda my personal belief that we're all here to connect. I think we all do a little bit better when we have somebody to connect with and bounce ideas off of. So that's what brought me into therapy and I like to see people reaching their fullest potential.

TU: So managing back-to-school anxiety, that seems like something that's always a stressor, no matter if we're getting ready to go back to school or in school. So managing back-to-school anxiety; what are typical stressors families deal with during this time?

FJ: Right, so there is a variety. Let me tell you, I think one of the biggest things is the back to school routines. I think that's something that probably everybody deals with at some point. Some kids and families jump into that a little bit smoother than other families. And so I think that's a piece. If kids are transitioning from let's say middle school into high school, you know, you're looking at a brand new school, all new teachers. Sometimes for the younger kids, you know, they're shifting from learning in one classroom to, well now I've got to go all over the school, and what will that look like? One thing, you know, we hear a lot about that I think would probably surprise people is kids with their locker combinations. Like that is just a really big thing and a big stressor.

FJ: So that's pretty common. I think one thing that maybe doesn't always get talked about enough, especially like in the middle school or as kids are getting into high school, is puberty; fun topic. But I think what happens is a lot of kids, like over the summer kind of hit that stage, right? And so they've got like a lot of changes in their appearance. Maybe they grew like three or four inches, maybe they're dealing with acne and they weren't before; voice changes. All those things can be a huge stressor for kiddos as they're thinking about going back to school. Another piece I had is just like friend groups. So a lot of us, if we're lucky we have a good support system. Hopefully we're keeping in touch with our friends over the summer, but there's also that other level of acquaintances and people we kind of only hang out with at school.

FJ: And so there's also that stress, "Will I still have those relationships when I go back in the fall? Will those people still want to connect with me? Will, some of those people have made new relationships over the summer and I'm not going to really fit anymore?" So these are some really common worries. Also another thing I think everybody can kind of relate to is, you know, clothing and trends, things like that, and then trends with social media. We're seeing that really become a thing and kind of a status symbol. So I know that's on some kids' minds as well.

TU: So that's some great information. A lot of things that I think kids stress about more than mom and dad. I still think about the combination and how stressful that is to remember it at key times. It's just very stressful. So now thinking about that, what are some of the strategies for preparing for and managing those stressors?

FJ: So luckily there are some things we can do to prepare for this. Some of the more basic things I think is just starting to practice that routine early. So some kids over the summer, you know, let's be real honest, sometimes the sleep schedule kind of goes out the window. Maybe you had a job in the summertime. You're just living a really different routine. And so as you think about going back into school, maybe just trying to get back on that school routine a week before school starts. So trying out that bedtime and getting more used to getting on track with your sleep, getting breakfast right away in the morning. We kind of tend to let those things go in the summertime. So just getting back on track a week early, is sometimes, you know, depending on the school you might some of them will have like a back to school night.

FJ: I think this is a great resource to use, as it can give you an opportunity to tour your classrooms, figure out where everything's going to be ahead of time. It's an opportunity to meet your new teachers, get a face to the name. So you know, when you get into that classroom and you see that teacher's face, it's like, "Okay, all right, I know I'm in the right place. I met her at the back to school night." And you know, not every school does offer that. And so if that's not your situation, maybe just kind of reaching out to the school to see if there is an option to go maybe a week ahead of time and do all those things individually. That's an option too. And when I think of the locker combination, I think about maybe some discrete ways you can kind of hide that, you know? So like maybe it is like on your shoe or in your sleeve, or I know most kids, a lot of kids are able to have phones. And so maybe it's something simple like that.

TU: Yeah. Don't do a tattoo because it's going to change next year.

FJ: Yeah, probably not a tattoo.

FJ: When I think more about like the puberty area, I think it's just really important for parents and I mean, just kids in general, I think it's good to create environment where it's okay to talk about those things. It's okay to ask questions. Cause I think the last thing we want is kids trying to figure out those things by themselves right. And figure out what's what's normal or not normal. And so just normalizing it and creating a safe place to ask questions and just kind of normalizing like, "Hey, this is something that everybody goes through at some point, you know, you're not alone." You know, for some people you might need to look at some additional resources. So within the school, each kiddo should fall under a category for a school counselor. So there should be one assigned to, even if you don't know who that is, maybe you do seek outside services and you look at meeting with a therapist to help with those stressors. That's definitely an option. In some cases with some kids, they do need to lean on like medication support. Sometimes focus is a big deal. Another thing that comes to mind is really leaning on your homeroom teacher. I know a lot of kids have like a "homebase" at school, so don't be afraid to ask questions and reach out to that person.

TU: That's a lot of great information. Our guest right now is Falan Johnson, an outpatient behavioral health therapist on the Fargo campus on Mind Your Mind. It's great having you on with us. And thinking about stressors, not just for the kids, but for parents, please don't wait until like the day or two before school starts to go get those back to school supplies. That is a huge stressor. And I think, you know, back to school sales, you know, start usually early July or something like that. So start shopping early so that's not a stressor. Your kids are gonna have enough stressors for you. You don't need to create some for yourself.

FJ: Right? Absolutely. Yep.

TU: All right. What about some resources to access for additional support?

FJ: So I kind of touched on some of that. But I think, again, that homeroom teacher, the school counselor. Some kiddos, depending on what they have arranged at school, some people will have some options for a resource room, where you can kind of go and reset or use resources to just deal with the back-to-school anxieties or anything else that's really going on. In some cases, kids might need to be assessed for an IEP at school. So an individualized educational program. This could be considered if the needs were to be more significant. Again, there's the outpatient resources. So seeking out a therapist or medication management, if it seems like that could be helpful. And then I would say peer groups. A big support for kiddos is going to be their peers. And so making sure they have access to healthy friendships, maybe exploring some clubs at school where people have like-minded interests.

TU: Great stuff, great information. Falan Johnson, our guest on Mind Your Mind. And as we wrap up, there's always that last question before we do. And that is what do you do personally, to mind your mind?

FJ: I have been trying to make it a daily practice to get at least 10 minutes of yoga or meditation into my day. Some days I'm able to get more of that. That's great. Some days, let's be honest, some days life gets a little crazy. So I try to at least get that minimum in. I find it just kind of gets me calm and reset and kind of ready for the day and bonus points if I can do it at night before bed, too.

TU: Thank you very much. Appreciate your time and your talent and being on Mind Your Mind.

FJ: Thanks so much, Tim.

TU: Thank you for joining us for Mind Your Mind, a podcast presented by Dakota Family Services. You can't have health without behavioral health. Remember to mind your mind. For more information, links to additional resources, contact information, and much more go to Dakotafamily


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