3 back to school tips for stress and transition

As if going back to school isn’t stressful enough sometimes, add in uncertainty about classroom structure, masks, distancing, virtual teaching, and hybrid classrooms.

We get that now more than ever, kids, teachers, and parents are facing some challenging decisions when it comes to school transitions. When our brains become over worked, over stimulated, and stressed, we default into lower brain mode.

What does this mean? Simply put, as anxiety increases due to unpredictable factors, our executive functioning decreases. We (both adults and kids) become more reactive, emotional, and frustrated. We don’t think as clearly and we are more easily triggered. We use less of our higher functioning brain and more of our lower functioning, emotional brain. We move from thriving to reacting and surviving.

It is in these moments we must bridge the gap between uncertainty and creating safety within the nerve system. This doesn’t mean being able to totally predict the future in our minds like a wizard. What it does mean is creating some level of predictability in ever-changing times.

Whether you are a teacher or a parent, here are some tips to bring you more ease and flow as you transition back into the school year.

1. Create Predictable Capacity within the Nerve System

Say what? Simply put, when we can create some level of visible, predictable routine and structure, this creates a sense of calm within the central nerve system.

Think about when you were a kid and it was your first day of school. Did you feel nervous because you didn’t know what to expect even in pre-covid time? This is a big reason why schools will have a “Discovery Day,” where students will have the opportunity to get a feel for the classrooms, campus, and flow of the school day. This helps bridge the gap between the known and unknown, thus creating more flexibility and ease within someone’s nerve system. There are a few ways you can do this listed in the points below. So keep reading!

2. Embrace change in routine together. 

Often times the most challenging part about change is embracing it as it is. With so much uncertainty moment to moment, often times the best thing is to surrender and embrace it. Remember the saying, “What you resist, persists.”

Now, I am not saying you must accept things the way they are on a global, political, or environmental scale. I myself don’t necessarily agree with the way the world is being handled at this time. But instead of verbally complaining about it, I have learned to surrender and control what I can and let go of the rest. What I can focus on is caring for the people right in front of me and staying adaptable to change. When we can stay adaptable and aware, this is where we become more powerful to actually make change within a system without the use of force or anger.

Just like we have had many conversations in our office to embrace the change, this is something we encourage you to have with your family, friends, and students. Healing happens in community and we are in this together. Plus, when we know others are embracing change with us, this gives healthy cues to our social nerve system that we are not alone.

Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your family about the change. Be real, validate feelings and emotions, speak the truth, and get curious on how you can have fun with the changes together. For example, your conversation might sound like this:

“Hey family, school may look a little different this year and that’s OK. I know you might feel nervous or afraid and that’s OK too. I want you to know that we are going to be in this together and I will be supporting you every step of the way. Let me share with you what it will look like on your first day.”

At this point you could do some role playing to help your kids get a physical, visual, and emotional sense of what it will potentially look like (again, we are creating as much predictability and visual awareness as possible). This brings us to point 3.

3. Transition Role Play with kids

Don’t be afraid to physically walk through their routine like a play. Make it fun! Ask their teachers if it’s possible for them to send a quick video of what the classroom will look like, what drop off will entail, how lunch will look, etc. The more visual cues provided, the more calm the nerve system becomes. Think about it this way, if you’re buying a house, you’d probably want to see it first (even visually) to know it’s a good fit, right?

The visual processing system of our central nerve system is linked to so many other factors of our whole brain, which is where we want to operate from. Whole brain function includes things like socialization, memory, emotions, executive functioning, balance, and overall more efficient processing. Most of us on the planet are visual processors so the more visual ease we can create for our kids, parents, and teachers in transition, the better.

This is another reason why at our office we focus on creating healthy input into the nerve system through our gentle approach to care. Healthy input into the spine and brain = healthy output (i.e. behaviors, emotional processing, actions, overall brain function, organ and gland function, etc). In times of uncertainty, unless we have an adaptable nerve system, our resiliency to change goes down. We pride ourselves on making sure both kids and adults are as adaptable and healthy as possible, especially during this time.

If you’re curious about how to support you and your family at this time when it comes to your health, adaptability, and resiliency, reach out. We are always open to having a free phone consult to see how we can help!

We are with you every step of the way

Wishing you a healthy start to the school year,

Dr. Mel and Michael

PS - Check out these other professional resources who specialize in children and families

Samantha Moe - Certified Parent Coach

Amie Summers - Family Psychotherapy

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