Tears, screaming, kids running for the door…yup, it’s the beginning of a new school year!
So what can you do to reduce school anxiety and help your students transition more smoothly into the new school year?
To answer this question I am borrowing from the Circle of Courage philosophy I used when I worked at Whaley Children’s Center. Children in the foster care system tend to go through many transitions and the Circle of Courage framework helps reduce anxiety and ease the transition process.
You can see how I use the framework from The Circle of Courage below. If you want to know more about The Circle of Courage click here.
Sense of Belonging: Building rapport
Student Interest Inventory: Kids go nuts when I talk about Creepers and Steve from Minecraft. Don’t even get me going about my extensive knowledge of all things Lego, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings. I’ve also been known to bust out origami and friendship bracelet knots from time to time. These hooks only work with the right audience…
How I Feel About School Survey: Click the link or the image below to download the free How I Feel About School Survey
Picture of everyone you live with: Have the student draw a picture of everyone they live with (including fur babies). I have found that this is an excellent icebreaker activity and helps to develop a sense of familiarity. I do this during my first session with all of my students. If they talk about Calvin biting them, it’s helpful to know if Calvin is their younger brother, an uncle who’s crashing on their couch, or their new puppy.
3 Wishes: Anxiety tends to come from feeling powerless. Allowing students to express their wishes helps them feel empowered and provides insight into their thought process.
Sharing Circle: Sharing favorites, such as hobbies, books, and animals, can help develop connections with other students and the teacher.
Buddy System: New or shy students may benefit from having a buddy show them around the school and sit with them at lunch the first few days of school.
Sense of Independence
Positive Reframing: Rewording statements that produce anxiety into realistic positive statements.
I want my mom! -> I can see my mom at 3:30.
I don’t have any friends! -> I am new and making friends can take time.
Nobody asks me to play with them! -> I can ask other kids to play with me.
No More Tears Ticket: Use a behavior punch card for each segment of time a child has made it without tears. The length of time will vary, but I usually go by the class schedule. Arrival, Bell Work, Circle Time, Centers, Lunch, Recess, etc. This allows children the opportunity to experience success even if there are a few tears here and there. I like using these free punch cards on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Worry Stone: My internship mentor introduced me to using worry stones, but Cheryl at Creative Elementary School Counselor has a great post about how to make/use them here.
Warm Fuzzy: This year I am making tiny stuffed hearts out of super soft fleece for students to stash in their pockets.
Furry Friend: A small stuffed animal does wonders, even if it stays in its home (a.k.a backpack).
Family Picture: Allow the student to bring in a family picture. Make sure the family knows that the picture may get ripped, stained, lost, etc.
Sense of Mastery: Increase the student’s sense of competence.
Schedule: Visual schedules are a great way to reduce anxiety. Thinking about “what comes next” can cause students to fall behind the current activity. Create a visual schedule for your classroom and give your student(s) their own copy. (Taping the schedule to the inside of their desk or a folder can help the child from feeling singled out.)
Procedures: How is lunch going to work? How am I getting home? When can I use the bathroom, sharpen my pencil, ask a question??? Questions about procedures (the way things operate on a day-to-day) can be overwhelming during the first few days of school.
School Tour: A tour of the school (preferably before school starts) can be really helpful in reducing anxiety.
Social Skills: Students with limited social skills may need help introducing themselves and connecting with peers.
Academic Performance: Students who struggle academically may be worried about the difficulty of work. Focusing on process rather than performance develops skills and allows struggling students to feel successful.
Sense of Generosity: Provide students with opportunity to contribute to the classroom
Class Jobs: Nothing makes a setting feel like a community than pitching in and helping out!
Participation: Talk to the student ahead of time and let them know that you will only call on them when their hand is raised.
*Students with symptoms lasting longer than a few weeks may need the assistance of a mental health professional outside of the school setting.*
How do you help students transition to the new school year? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below!
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