Dealing With Back-to-School Anxiety

Hello. Welcome to the 360 method, a weekly podcast where we talk about everything autism 360. Each week we’re going to be catching you up with what’s going on in the program, chatting with team members and talking all things mindset whilst exploring relevant ideas to autism parenting. I’m your host, Ella Bailey. I’m an autism 360 veteran coach. Explorer of all things parenting autism. Each week I’m lucky enough to be joined by my co-host Renae Tate, who is our mindset coach extraordinaire. Hello Renae. 

Hi Ella. Hello everyone. How are you today? Hope everyone’s having a great day and dealing well with whatever is happening for you right now. 

Yeah, we are onwards and upwards, right Renae? We are just coping with back to school in a whole bunch of different ways. Aren’t we? 

Yes. It’s great topic today. I think as you said, school anxiety. It is very topical at the moment and something that may be a lot of our parents are dealing with on, in different ways, on different levels. So looking forward to discussing that with you today. 

Yes. And as always to you, our lovely listeners. Welcome, welcome. We care about your thoughts, your experiences and your feedback about the program. So please do drop us a line at We would love to hear from you. 

Before we get started. I would just like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land from which this podcast is being broadcast today is the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation and pay respect to the elders past, present and emerging. I wanted to also say that this is not designed to substitute for medical or advice. If you are concerned about your kiddo, if you are, you know, want more information, need more specific advice, please do get in contact with your medical or allied health professional. 

Word of the week: School Anxiety

So word of the week Renae. Our word of the week is school anxiety. What are your kind of big picture thoughts about school anxiety from a mindset perspective?

Look, I think, you know, it’s interesting because it’s something that I have one of my elder daughter who has had anxiety in the past, and it was interesting that we had this come up, she’s going into year 11 or she just gone into your 11. So it was, you know, coming up again and. It’s normal for all kids to feel a bit anxious after the holidays, going back to school.

It’s like, you know, I haven’t seen my friends for a while. What’s changed what teachers do I have, you know, it’s a bit like that. I think sometimes, you know, just getting back into work or school, whatever, you know, we’ve been away from for a while. So that’s quite normal obviously. But some kids obviously do struggle with that more than others.

You know, one of the things that, you know, discuss with my daughter, which was really good, and I was able to help her draw upon her own resources. And I think that’s the key, right? It’s like empowering them to be able to draw on their own resources because we can’t be there to fix everything for them all the time. And as much as it’s hard for parents to let their children go, if they’re feeling anxious, you know, they do need to learn these skills. And obviously we need to be empathetic as well, but really just give them the tools to empower them as much as we can, which is something that we do a lot on the autism 360 program as you know, is about empowering the parents. But in this case, it’s very much about empowering the children. 

Growth Mindset

So one of the things that I talk to my daughter about is I said, look, you know, you felt like this when you went to kindergarten, you felt like this when you went to year seven, you felt like this when you started your first job, when you started driving and you know, that just that awareness of her going yeah.

You know, I have felt like this many times in the past, but guess what? I over came at each time and it got easier and it got better. And really quickly, I just saw the penny drop for her, where she was able to look back and go, yeah, actually I have had this, but you know what? I was able to overcome it. And, very quickly I think that those examples for her was enough for her to realize that. I’ve got this. I can do this, you know, so I think that’s a really good unlike if your child has had this in the past, maybe before, when they were younger starting school or at a different time, just giving them that reminder that you know, what you felt like this back then, but you were able to overcome that.

And you know, that was a really easier one for me this year, then what it has been in the past because she was able to draw on her own resources and examples that she’d had in the past. So that would be my first tip is look at some examples you can give them of where they have overcome that before. 

Dealing With Back-to-School AnxietyThat is such a cool experience that you got to talk with her about the kind of growth that she’s had in the past and use that almost as evidence to kind of bolster her self belief. Like, look, you did these things and you can also do this thing. I’m like, I love that. 

Yeah. And it was almost like I just saw it, the, you know, the light bulb go on for her, where it was like, oh, you can’t argue with that. You know, like once you look at that and go, yeah, actually I have done this. And then there was no way to go from there. The anxiety just sort of dissipated and she realized that, yep. You know, I can do this so that self-belief and confidence drawing upon that. It really did help. 

How cool. I think that kind of growth mindset idea of that, yeah, you’re right. There might be hard things. There could be things that you need to overcome, but look at all these awesome examples of things that you’ve overcome in the past and kind of highlighting that, not highlighting the, you know, the outcome necessarily, but highlighting that it was hard initially, but tried. And you know, you can repeat the success just by giving it a really good go. I love that idea. 

Yeah. And I think that’s the thing. It’s like how, you know, what we feed grows. So if we’re sort of getting a bit caught up in their anxiety and we’re getting anxious, that’s obviously not going to help them.

So I think just staying calm, you know, getting them to draw on their own resources, whichever ones they can be. So that’s obviously a good one. Another one that I would suggest is helping them to breathe, you know, just to be able to go, you know, Let’s just do a little bit of breathing just to help them calm themselves down. And be able to draw upon some tools that they can use during the day, or, you know, at any time where they’re starting to feel that that’s building up. And another part to that breathing. Yes. Something I call our personal sanctuary, which is about setting up a place like your happy place, where you’re able to go to at any time that you may be needing that.

So that’s really a lovely one that we can all use and maybe that’s the beach for them. Maybe it’s a special place where they just feel really happy might be a park or a garden or something like that. So just to be able to help them visualize and step into that lovely place where they do feel calm and happy, that’s a good one that they could be using throughout the day if they just need to go and settle themselves down. And one obviously another resource that they can use as well. 

Absolutely. It’s kind of adding to their tool belt, all strategies that they use. Tapping into when they feeling dysregulated or anxious, again, during the day that they can do without you building up their independence. 

Yes, absolutely. And kids are so, you know, good at imagining and escaping and things like that. So I think having something like that, that they can go to is a really lovely one that they can learn to soothe themselves at different times as well. I think sometimes like when we try and fight the anxiety that can sometimes make it worse.

Identify the emotion

I often say to people as well, just identify what is the emotion? Oh, okay. I’m feeling a bit anxious right now. Okay. What’s that about? And just actually talk to yourself through that. You know, it’s like once we put our finger on the emotion and identified, it sort of starts to lose a bit of its power rather than, oh, I’m feeling anxious and you’re almost becoming she’s about feeling anxious and that kid just really desperate to grow.

And you’re having this little thought within yourself. So, you know, being able to identify, okay, I’m feeling like this, what’s that about? Okay, well, that’s fair enough. You know, it’s all a bit new at the moment and just talk yourself through that. As I said, it really starts to lose its power and you’ll find that you’ll be able to move through that emotion a lot faster.

So that’s another one that is a good thing to practice for all of us, but particularly one that we can help our children with this. 

See the signs

Absolutely. I mean, I think certainly with bringing a little bit of that kind of psychological science into it when we know that, you know, a certain physiological sign means that we’re anxious, you know, we are getting sweaty palms or where panting or something like that. It’s almost a signal to ask that there therefore is something to worry about. It’s kind of the cyclical feedback loop of, oh, okay. My body’s telling me I’m stressed. Therefore I’m stressed. Therefore I’m stressed about being stressed because my body’s telling me to be stressed now.

And that, I mean, that’s just not helpful for anybody. And kind of breaking that circuit seems like what, you’re not only talking about parents being able to do, but also talking about kiddos, being able to do at school by using that kind of personal sanctuary strategy is that right? 

Absolutely. I mean, that is one strategy. And as I said, also just by identifying the emotion, putting our finger on it and just saying, okay, I’m feeling like that right now. What’s that about? Just talking to yourself logically. And okay. It’s all a bit new, but you know, I’m going to be able to get through this, that really just helps that emotion not have so much power in charge.

And, you know, I think that’s the problem. Like you said, you start getting stressed about being stressed or anxious about being anxious and. You know, it’s just finding those, those different ways. We’re all different. So, you know, see what works for your child, but having some things that you can do to be able to bring yourself back down, really, you know, really helps.

And the more that they know that they can do that, the more they go, oh, okay. I know I’ve got some strategies and tools that I can use, which actually helps us feel calm. Or when we have a solution that really helps us go, well, I know what I can do if I start to feel like that. 

Yes, absolutely. And it’s interesting, you know, when I was thinking about what if the week and kind of our top three tips relating to school anxiety, almost, and you know, it’s a parenting podcast kind of thing, but my tips are all like, not really about the school, not really about anything solid that we need to be doing. It’s more about our own anxiety management, our own, you know, engaging with our own thought processes that might be holding us back in terms of supporting our kids at school. So I think we’re very much on the same wavelength there.

Environmental Factors

Yeah, definitely. And obviously, you know, making sure that there’s nothing big going on at school, like, you know, looking at the environmental factors, which obviously we would, we would suggest as well, you know, making sure they’re not being bullied or there’s something specific at the school and that have got support, but you’re right.

You know, often these emotions are very much internal and they’re not logical, you know, like, well, you know, there’s no, sometimes no real reason for them to be feeling like that. But then. Let’s get a little bit overcome with that emotion and anxiety. And it’s about having those strategies and really empowering them to be able to address that.

And I think once we get that confidence, that belief system is, as we discussed earlier, that’s where we start to go, oh, I’ve got this. I know I can do this. You know? Yes, I’ve this I’ve had this before, but I was able to overcome that through whatever technique or tool, you know, worked for us in the past.

And as I said, you know, what we feed grows. So I wouldn’t be giving it more energy and attention than it needs. Sometimes when people say to me, my anxiety, my anxiety, my depression, and I say to them, take out the mind don’t own it, because then it’s almost like it’s a part of you it’s attached to you.

It’s not your anxiety, it’s the anxiety, you know, just even things like that does remove it from you. You’re not stuck with it forever. Maybe you don’t have that solution right now, but it doesn’t mean that there’s not ways to be able to overcome that. 

Know What Actually Makes You Anxious

Absolutely. And some of the tips that I have around managing school anxiety is, I guess, coming to terms with what it is that we’re actually worried about.

So a lot of the time when we really boil down, you know, anxieties or things that we’re worried about or those kinds of things, this there’s so much. What we make those things mean about ourselves or about our kids or what we think that our kiddo is going to make those things mean about themselves.

And that is that’s a process that we can interrupt, you know, like we don’t have to make those things mean those things about ourselves, you know? So, through example, I’m worried that. My kid is going to go to school, be disruptive, get in trouble. And then everybody is going to think that I’m a bad parent, you know, that process, isn’t a given, like, let’s look at that and give out, like, kind of get ourselves a break from carrying that around, you know, it doesn’t have to be like that. Let’s engage with the process. 

Well, just to add to that, I think that’s a really good point because I think the problem is that the parents do feel quite helpless with these types of things. And, you know, it doesn’t mean, like you said, there’s nothing wrong with your parenting. I think the worst thing as a parent is to feel helpless. Like I can’t, you know, I don’t know how to help my child with this, but just because as I said, you know, you don’t have the strategy just now doesn’t mean that it’s not something that can be overcome. 

One of the things I love about the program is that all of a sudden, you know, parents are finding strategies that they hadn’t thought of when they’re working with us on the program and all of a sudden it’s like, wow, my toy, my, my child is toileting or my child’s now doing these. So that nine. I didn’t know that you know, that it could happen that fast. And, you know, it’s just about right now, maybe you don’t have that strategy or that solution, but please just keep focusing on what’s the solution rather than getting stuck in the problem.

So yeah, I think that’s a really good tip, Ella. It’s not about whether we’re great parents because we wouldn’t be here listening if you weren’t. It’s just that, you know, it’s one of those things that we have to help our children learn over time. And there is always a way. 

Absolutely. And I guess my three kind of word of the week tips are based around that it’s kind of solutions oriented. And these are things that I talk to my parents on the program about all the time. 

Think Relationships

And my first big tip is to think about school in terms of a relationship in terms of the relationship. Between your kiddo and learning between your kid and their teachers focus on the relationships at school, because the relationships are what drags everything else along.

So the learning is kind of a byproduct of the relationship that your kiddo has with their teacher, for the, you know, for the most part primarily. And so I always encourage parents, you know, don’t worry so much about. I don’t know. I’m trying to think of an example. Don’t worry so much about your nap plan preparation. Don’t worry so much about, you know, do I go Montessori? Do I go Steiner? Do I go mainstream? Think about which teacher, which person, which adults is going to be there investing in my child. And how can I foster that relationship? 

Primarily, that is my number one tip in terms of managing, you know, school anxiety for ourselves, managing school anxiety for our kids. Think of it as a relationship that you build rather than, you know, a process that you are. Being forced to engage with sort of team because your kid has to go to school, sorry, that’s my first tip in terms of being solutions oriented, it’s a relationship that you build, not a test score that you get, not a place that you have to go.

Shared Experience

My second one would be think of school as an experience that you share for your child. So and right or wrong, you know, often parents get the impression that school is something that your child has to fit into that your child needs to in order to be successful, needs to completely be able to kind of do everything that the school requires, you know, fit in all the molds that the school has set up.

And I would encourage parents to dig a little deeper into that concept. Engage with that critically and think, okay, well, why, how can I shape the school experience to be a way that supports my child in a way that it works for us that helps my kiddo to learn, you know, if that’s the ultimate goal think of school is something that you can shape for your kiddo.

And I just want to, spruce really quickly, that our fabulous senior coach Kim does amazing work with parents in her one-to-one education sessions on the program, just talking about like, okay, well, like how can we change our parental kind of thoughts about school, which might’ve been shaped by a whole bunch of our experiences at school into something that, that is more, helpful for shaping school into something that works for your kid, you know, does your kiddos need more support in the classroom?

That’s okay. You know, school is there for your kid, not the other way around. And I also just find that parents come away from sessions with Kim, totally thinking in a different way. Cool that they could actually kind of advocate for what their kid needs and that the school can come to the party on that.

And so many schools are happy to do that in whatever way they can, but we need to think of it as a thing that we can do which lots of parents, you need to be taught about that. So that’s definitely my second tip. 

Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a good, good point that you make as well about, you know, the pressure that sometimes, you know, we do put on our children in terms of different things also just want to mention that because I think we all want our children to do well at school and get the best grades and all of that. But I think perhaps, you know, looking at, am I putting a little bit too much pressure on them and that could be another, another thing to just look at with that as well, and just make sure that there’s no added pressure, that is causing that anxiety because when they’re happy at school and they’re enjoying it, they’re obviously going to be, you know, learning better and enjoying it more.

Lower The Stakes

Absolutely. And it’s funny. That is my third tip. It’s just like lower the stakes. Stop putting the pressure on yourself and on your kid specifically, because school is a marathon, not a sprint. It goes for in Australia at least 12 years, minimum potentially. You know, it’s thinking about, okay, well, I’ve got a lot of this to go, can I, and do I want to sustain this pressure that I’m putting on myself, putting on my kiddo, or can I let a little bit of that go to, to enable us to kind of be in it for the long haul together? 

You know, I think it’s so easy when you’re, I dunno, in the kind of stressful high needs stages of parenting to feel like, oh my goodness. If I don’t, for example, get this homework done today in a hundred percent completion that, you know, your kiddos schooling is going down the drain and I just cannot stress how much of that is not, not the case. Your kiddos schooling will be absolutely fine. And don’t, you know, don’t hear me saying that you shouldn’t put effort into supporting your kiddo or whatever, but I guess, you know, keeping a north star in terms of a happy, healthy, healthy, engaged kiddo at school is more important than, you know, your kindergarten homework getting done on the Thursday night, even though everybody’s, I don’t know, crying, for example.

Yeah, it’s so true, Ella, that’s a great point. And I think sometimes as parents put so much pressure on ourselves, even like to get everything right, and perfect. And then obviously, you know, we sometimes are putting that on our children without necessarily meaning to, so I think that’s a really important tip. Like maybe take the pressure off yourself a bit and also off your child, just so that they’re happier in general with them. Absolutely. 

Yeah. So I guess they’re going to be our main tips. Did you have anything else to add? 

Be Aware With Your Thoughts And Feelings

Just one last one you did mention before about thoughts, you know, and these are thoughts and, you know, this is something just to follow on from identifying the emotion.

Okay. You know, I’m feeling a bit anxious, just also just being aware that what creates our feelings and our thoughts, even though sometimes we feel like we’ve got no control over them. They are just thoughts and thoughts can be changed. So rather than sort of having a bit of a fight with you, what are your thoughts?

If they start to run away and get into that? One of the things that I often encourage the parents on the program to use is have an empowering affirmation, something that you can say to yourself over and over again, if you ever need to just calm down or, you know, feel better instantly. And it’s good to have one that you can just draw upon at any time.

So one that may be nice for your child is to just have something like I’m feeling calmer and calmer every time. Oh, I’m feeling calm, stronger and stronger every day. I’m feeling more and more confident every day. Now that’s one that is just a nice one that you can keep saying over and over again, pick what feels good to you, but it’s one that the more that you’re saying it gives you a positive thought to come back to instantly.

And the more you say it, the more that starts to become you’re reprogramming you feeling more and more that way. It instantly makes you feel better, but it actually has long-term success through the power of affirmations. So that’s just a good one that maybe you want to set up with your child.

One that they can say to themselves. And, you know, once they plant that new seed and start watering that seed of I’m feeling better and better every day or whatever it is, that will be amazed at how that starts to actually become their new reality. That’s how powerful our thoughts are. And reprogramming yourself at that day.

I love that idea. And I remember, you know, we chatted a little bit about, affirmations last year on one of our Facebook lives and how powerful that was for people. I think that’s such a good suggestion Renae. 

Yes. Thank you, Ella. And I’m sure there’s been some great tips today. I think that really hope that that helps our parents out there just to have some good tools to be able to use and draw upon in at the moment and in the future as well.

Yep. Absolutely. So thank you to our lovely listeners for tuning in today. As I said before, please, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line at We will chat with you next week and until then think 360. 

Thank you. Bye.

Dealing With Back-to-School Anxiety
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Dealing With Back-to-School Anxiety
This podcast hosted by our team member Ella Bailey and our mindset coach Renae Tate, is about back-to-school anxiety and how parents and their children can deal with it.
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Autism 360
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