Archive of ‘Back to School’ category

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like School Time

As the new school year approaches, parents everywhere are excited for their child to begin their first day. Children prepare with fresh haircuts, ‘first day of school’ outfits, and school supplies, yet underneath all their  preparation, they may be struggling with anxiety and apprehension with the thought of beginning school, especially tweens and adolescents moving into middle school or high school. As a child therapist, if I had to name a primary reason for anxiety increasing as school approaches, it would be uncertainty. Uncertainty of what’s going to be expected of them, uncertainty of what the structure is like, uncertainty of  “who’s lunch table am I going to sit at?”  and “how am I going to find my classes?”– all changes that are new and unfamiliar. With the first day of school quickly approaching, it is a great opportunity to check-in with your child and support them with regulating their thoughts and emotions. One effective strategy that builds connection and a sense of control within their new transition can be goal setting for their upcoming school year. 

How does creating goals with my child reduce their anxiety? 

Working with your child to set specific, realistic goals decreases anxiety because it provides a roadmap or structure for them to work in, increasing feelings of control as they enter a new situation. As you model for them how to think with intention beyond the present moment, it is a bonding opportunity as you listen to your child’s stress and beliefs about themselves. Connecting your expectations with their expectations, clarifies what the family values as success versus what they think must be accomplished. For example, there may be some relief when a child hears, “Getting straight A’s in all your AP classes is really challenging. What do you feel that you can accomplish? How can I support you with that?”” By creating a target that is reachable, it decreases your child’s irrational thoughts about how the next grade level is too challenging or that they are not “good enough” because they now feel capable and more motivated to meet expectations. As author Amanda Morin states, “When your child begins to decide what they want to accomplish, they’re more likely to be motivated to complete things for their own satisfaction and learning, rather than for the satisfaction of others or for tangible rewards”. 

How do you begin the goal setting process with your child?

When creating goals with clients and their families, I often start the conversation with defining the word goal. How can a child create a goal or be engaged in conversation if they do not actually know what a goal is? Amanda Morin states, “..a goal is something that a person wants to achieve. A goal is realized after a person puts a plan of action in motion that makes their intention a reality.” Using this as a base, we discuss different goals that engage my client’s interests, for example, a goal that my client has for his basketball season. Then, we discuss ideas on how to accomplish the goal. After some simple examples, I introduce the concept of a SMART goal. 

What is a SMART goal? 

At times, parents have approached me with thoughts that their child doesn’t have realistic goals or that they are not motivated to do school work or help around the house. Goal setting can be a powerful strategy, but your child needs to feel connected toward their goal and that it has a purpose. In addition, they need guidance on how to develop goals so the strategy is supportive. SMART is an acronym that contains five key elements to effectively create and succeed at a goal.

A SMART goal is..

  • Specific: The goal is clear and has an end so you know when you have reached it.
  • Measurable: You can track progress on your goal.
  • Achievable: Your goal is challenging, but you are capable of meeting it.
  • Relevant: Your goal is interesting to you or is a skill you want to learn.
  • Time-bound: You have a deadline to complete the goal by.

How do I begin? 

There are many online worksheets and activities to support you and your child with creating SMART goals. 

After learning about my clients’ overwhelming thoughts and emotions about their upcoming school year, I created my own SMART goal activity for us to use during our session. As they created goals related to their personal life, relationships with their peers, and their academics, we formulated them into the sentence starters below:

My goal is to ________________________ (specific) by ___________________(timeframe)

I will accomplish this goal by ___________________ (things/steps you can do to achieve this goal). 

Accomplishing this goal will _______________________ (result/benefit/why is this goal important to you?) . 

Of course, we saved time for them to add some creative touches. Children left their session feeling more relaxed with positive thoughts about their school year, and had plans to put them in a place where they look often, like a school agenda. In addition, every client was happy to share their goals with their parents. It was a great planning tool and I feel confident that it can create some powerful conversations with your child. 


“5 Tips for Setting Smart Goals as a Family.” Waterford.Org, 24 Aug. 2022,,which%20they%20should%20help%20define

Leonard, Kimberlee. “The Ultimate Guide to S.M.A.R.T. Goals.” Forbes, 11 May 2022,

Morin, Amanda. “How to Set Goals for Your Child This School Year.” Verywell Family, 23 June 2022,

Paulus, Daniel J, et al. “Mental Health Literacy for Anxiety Disorders: How Perceptions of Symptom Severity Might Relate to Recognition of Psychological Distress.” Journal of Public Mental Health, 2015,

4 Tips for Students with ADHD from a Tutor with ADHD

As a therapist who works with both children and adolescents, one of the many topics that my clients struggle with is the impact school has on their mental health. Simply put, school is a significant part of any young person’s life, but when compounded with the stress of learning challenges, such as ADHD, school can be a predominant source of stress. 

For this blog, I had an extensive discussion with a tutor based out of Austin who has worked with students, ages 5 and above, for the past 4 years.  What I found particularly unique about this conversation was that this tutor not only works with students who have ADHD, but she herself was diagnosed with ADHD during her junior year of high school. This shared experience of ADHD between she and her students provides a unique perspective that helps her connect with them on a more emotional level. During our conversation, I was able to glean 4 helpful tips for students with ADHD that are also utilized by this tutor in her own life. 

1. Utilize a check list

A check list is customized with important information for you that can help you get started on schoolwork. Creating a daily checklist before and after school that you go through every morning can help narrow down what specific tasks you should focus on. This can be especially useful if you tend to get overwhelmed easily by everyday tasks and also struggle with time management. 

Example of a Check List:  

  • Did I go to the bathroom? 
  • Do I have water & snacks easily accessible to me?
  • Do I have my notebooks & pencils/ materials I need for studying?
  • Do I have my timer?
  • Did I turn off all my distractions?
  • Did I check my learning platform for any missing/incomplete assignments?
  • Create a practical & reasonable list of assignments to be completed today 

2. Tackle more than one unfinished assignment

There will be times when you will fall behind on assignments because of stress, extra curricular activities, lack of motivation, or poor time management. When this happens, start by taking a deep breath, realize that you are not a “bad” student for falling behind in school, and feel comforted by the fact that you now have a tip to help you tackle unfinished work: Prioritize assignments from most liked subject to the least liked ones. Then within those assignments, order them from easiest to hardest. Start off with the easiest assignment that will take the least amount of time to give yourself “confidence points.” Confidence points not only instill belief and trust in yourself that you will get through these assignments, but it can also decrease the overall amount of stress you have about the unfinished work. 

Then look at the harder assignments and consider who you can ask for help not only on the work itself, but also who can help you break up these assignments into smaller segments. 

Ideas for asking for help: 

  • Set up a meeting with your teacher
  • Ask your parents for tutoring help
  • Text or call a friend 
  • Go to your older sibling

3. Set timers (that are not on your phone or any other tech device) 

Setting timers for yourself can break up tedious school assignments into manageable chunks. When setting a timer, consider how long it takes you to lose focus on a subject. For example, If it takes you 15 minutes to lose focus, then break the assignment up into 15 minute chunks and then take a break. When trying out this tool; however, start off with a break that is half the amount of the set timer (which would be 7 and 1/2 minutes in this case). Keep yourself accountable and honor the timer to avoid mentally exhausting yourself or fixating on one subject. If you remember that you need to do something else unrelated to the assignment when the timer is already set, write it down on a sticky note and save it for your break time to avoid getting side-tracked. 

Examples of Timers that are Not on your Phone: 

  • Microwave 
  • Stove 
  • Manual kitchen timer (check the link below for reference) : Lux Minute Minder Timer Mechanical White with Black Markings 60 Min : Home & Kitchen

4. Incorporate rewards into your break times 

In Tip #3, you learned how to set timers and alternate studying time with breaks. In Tip #4, we want to show you how your breaks can be used as a way to reward yourself for all the hard work you have been putting into your school assignments. These rewards are a simple and fun way to keep you motivated, but without the use of social media, any type of technology, or screen time. Because as we all know, these devices can be incredibly distracting to our learning processes and invite poor studying habits. But we do not want to deprive you of technology completely, so when you have completed a larger academic goal that you have set for yourself (e.g. making an A on a test or no late assignments for 6 weeks) you can incorporate a bigger reward that does include screens or technology. 

Examples of Fun Rewards:  

  • If you are passionate about fitness, do 5 push ups 
  • If you have a sweet tooth, reward yourself with 2 M&Ms 
  • If you need some love, cuddle with your pet  
  • If you love to draw, sketch your favorite TV character 
  • If you need a brain teaser, solve sudoku 

Note from the tutor: 

Sometimes students can feel shame or embarrassment when they are not fitting into societal academic norms, which can then lead to low self-esteem or a negative self-concept, like “I’m the dumbest student” or “I’m never going to learn.” I fell into the trap of believing that I was not a “good” or capable student because many of my teachers’ and professors’ expectations on students overall created unrealistic expectations for myself, especially as a student with learning difficulties. My advice to students is to be honest with yourself and accept that learning may take longer for you and that is okay. Move away from comparing your academic abilities to societal norms, teachers’ expectations, and even other students’ abilities. And instead ask yourself: How can I set myself up to be successful? 

Ways to Increase Connection with your Child When School Starts

Notice the Good and Encourage 

As you know, the weeks leading up to school and even after school starts can be a rough transition for both you and your kiddo. One way to increase connection with your child is to not only pay attention to the positive things that your child does, but also verbalize them. Yes, the small things too! When people do better they feel better, which is exactly how children feel when their parents notice and affirm their positive actions. 

Examples of Encouragement: 

“I appreciate how you put your backpack up when you walked into the house.”

You are such a kind friend for holding the door for your classmate.” 

“Thank you for helping me set the table.” 

“You must be so proud of yourself for figuring out your math homework.”

Make Agreements 

A common struggle I hear when working with parents is “how do I get my child to do what I want.” A parent that decides for their child what they want their child to do directly reduces the opportunity for collaboration or discussion, which can create more distance between them. With this authoritarian approach, the child may feel discouraged that they cannot express their feelings leaving the parent defeated as to how to fix the issue.  

However, involving your child in the process of creating agreements can increase direct involvement from them, which can lead them to keep their agreements. Children feel respected when they are given an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings on an issue. 

Follow these 5 Steps for how to create Agreements: 

  1. Sit down together when everyone is calm and have a respectful discussion about an issue that requires an agreement 
  2. Brainstorm Solutions. Let everyone share their thoughts and feelings about the issue.
  3. Choose a solution that everyone can agree on and agree on a specific time deadline 
  4. If agreement is not followed, refrain from using judgment or criticism. Instead say, “What was our agreement?” 
  5. If agreement is still not followed, start again with Step 1.

Validate Feelings 

The first few weeks of school can elicit a range of emotions from your child. Some children might be excited about making new friends or entering a new grade, while others may feel nervous and retreat from these new experiences. Whatever your child may be feeling during these first few weeks of school, you will be a source of grounding for them. They will come to you seeking guidance or support and the most important way you can help them is to validate their feelings. 

Validation is all about providing children the space to simply feel without you trying to rescue, fix, or deny their feelings. When you directly acknowledge your child’s feelings through a question or statement, it models to them: I am significant and it is okay to feel what I feel. Through validation, you show them that their feelings provide crucial information about themselves in that very moment. And when children experience their feelings and are actively able to work through them, it can lead to self-regulation, and then later to appropriate problem solving. 

Examples of Validation: 

“You sound angry.” 

“I can see that makes you very frustrated.” 

“Can you tell me more about what you are feeling?”

“Do you need a hug?” 

Transitioning out of summer and into the school year can be hectic and overwhelming as the entire household juggles waking up on time, carpools, bus rides, packing lunches, after school activities, completing homework, and the list goes on. And as a parent, the responsibility falls on you to manage, problem solve, and fix things along the way. However, I would like to remind you that you deserve to give yourself compassion and patience during this time because you may not meet every expectation you have for yourself as a parent. And that is okay. 

The creator of Positive Discipline, Jane Nelson says, “the first step in learning to be the best (but not perfect) parent you can be is to create a roadmap to guide you to your destination.” My hope is that by implementing and practicing these three techniques it will serve as a path to more meaningful moments with your child. 

Written By: Geetha Pokala, M.S., LPC

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