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Managing Back-to-School Stress and Anxiety: Tips from 4 Anxiety Specialists at CARE-LA

Managing Back-to-School Stress and Anxiety: Tips from 4 Anxiety Specialists at CARE-LA

Published: Oct. 8, 2021Updated: Oct. 27, 2023

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Introducing new routines and returning to traditional school settings can cause anxiety, stress, and lack of motivation in children (as well as parents!). In our Back to School/Back to Life event series, Undivided talked with four child anxiety reduction experts at CARE-LA to find out how we can better support our kids and ourselves through these periods of change.

CARE-LA bases their work in cognitive behavioral therapy and evidence-based approaches to tackle some of the biggest challenges our kids face. During these live events, CARE-LA founder Dr. Lauren Stutman and three of her colleagues broke down different concepts relating to anxiety, giving us tangible skills and expert advice to help our kids navigate these complicated feelings.

Stress management advice from Dr. Lauren Stutman

Transitions are hard and can intensify anxiety and discomfort. During our kick-off event, CARE-LA founder Dr. Stutman provided us with three tools to help reduce situational anxiety and make room for personal growth through reframing, validation, and breathing.

Reframing and challenging the situation

Reframing a situation as an experience rather than “something bad” can change the way you approach it. Slowly pushing a little bit out of your comfort zone can bring more comfort to the experience and will help your body get used to the feared situation.

Creating your own value system

Recognizing the difference between society’s values and your family’s values, and then giving your kids the freedom to choose, can be liberating and validating. Meeting kids where they are and not where society says they have to be can deeply help your child.

4-7-8 breath exercise

The fight or flight response occurs within the sympathetic nervous system. With this breathing exercise demonstrated by Dr. Stutman, we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the relaxation response in our body. Watch the clip to learn how to do this exercise with your kids.

The whole-brain child with Dr. Erin Cantwell

The authors of The Whole-Brain Child, Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D, studied the integration of mental health and the body, and used brain-based research to come up with parenting strategies that foster a healthy mind. CARE-LA’s Dr. Cantwell broke it all down for us into concrete, effective ways of communication that we can use to help connect and grow with our kids (and as individuals).

Types of connection

When your child is overwhelmed, don’t use logic. Instead, connect with their feelings. Naming the emotion can tame the overwhelming feeling. Recognize that your child (and you) may need space; upon recognition, your child can signal to others that they are about to “flip.”

Providing language

However your child communicates, your job is to provide the language and break down events to help make sense of their world. Some children need to be explicitly taught how to read others and navigate feelings and emotions. Remember: feelings are not a permanent trait; they are a state of mind.

Denying vs. validating

Validating your child’s feelings makes them feel heard and understood. In this clip, Dr. Cantwell gives examples of denial and validation, and she emphasizes the importance of modeling behavior for our kids. It will never be perfect, but there is always room to rectify the situation and show your child how to recognize and correct mistakes.

Responding to trauma with Dr. Katrina Rydzewski

Trauma is a natural response to a perceived or actual threat. Dr. Rydzewski dove into the varying levels of trauma tolerance and how big and little traumas can appear in children across differing developmental stages in unique ways. Using the Attachment, Regulation, and Competency (ARC) framework, she shared techniques that caregivers, parents, and providers can use to create a safe space to help children work through their trauma.

Creating a safe space

Identify your child’s stressors and the tools that help you mitigate your child’s trauma. Having open communication and providing teachers and providers with this information can help others be more aware and create a safe space for your child when you are not present.

Being present

Taking a step back and a few deep breaths to center yourself can sometimes be all you need to help you help your child. Take care of yourself and meet your kid where they are. Patience is key.

Dealing with traumatic stress

Be mindful of how your emotions and reactions impact your child. Help your child self-regulate by identifying their experience using colors or shapes, and remember that slow and small exposure to their trauma can help increase tolerance. Hear Dr. Rydzewski's explanation in this clip.

Motivational strategies for kids with Dr. Vivian Wang

Lack of structure and changes in routine can lead to an abundance of negative thoughts and mood-related issues. Dr. Wang gave us a variety of tools we can use in our everyday lives to combat this “blah” feeling and help us positively reimagine our days, reduce anxiety, and boost motivation.

Setting goals

You can help promote your child’s ability to get through a difficult day. Normalize facing challenges by asking your child what their goals are for the day, big or small. It’s important to give kids permission to recalibrate and believe in themselves.


Break big challenges into smaller, doable tasks. Intersperse the completion of each smaller task with something pleasurable, like a snack or a walk to the park. With time, you can get through small challenges and overcome them.

Behavioral activation

There is no magic to increasing motivation — there has to be action. The easiest way to get to the action is through activities your child enjoys; you can borrow that momentum and turn it into motivation in other areas. What activities is your child most interested in? Check out this clip for Dr. Wang's explanation.

You can also hear more from Dr. Wang in our article Motivational Strategies for Going Back to School.

Thank you to the CARE-LA team for providing the knowledge and tools to help us better support and connect with our kids during this time!

If you're an Undivided member, you can find full recordings of our events with these specialists by logging into the Undivided app.



Stress management advice from Dr. Lauren Stutman

The whole-brain child with Dr. Erin Cantwell

Responding to trauma with Dr. Katrina Rydzewski

Motivational strategies for kids with Dr. Vivian Wang

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Events with CARE-LA


Undivided Editorial TeamStaff

Reviewed by Undivided Editorial Team, #### Contributors Dr. Vivian Wang, Psychologist at CARE-LA Dr. Lauren Stutman, Licensed psychologist and founder of CARE-LA Dr. Erin Cantwell, Psychologist Dr. Katrina Rydzewski, CARE-LA, psychologist

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