6 Ways To Help Your Child Cope With Back-To-School Anxiety
Heading back to school isn't fun for everyone. Here's how you can work on freeing your child from the back-to-school anxiety
For many kids, going back to school is exciting. New pencil cases full of perfectly sharpened pencils, shiny new books, and reunions with friendly faces. They all make for a resumption that's full of smiles and positive emotion. For children who struggle with anxiety, on the other hand, the back-to-school transition isn’t quite as easy. This is especially true for children and teens going back to school. Or for first-timers starting kindergarten. This transition can be stressful and disruptive for your entire family! Before the first day of school, your anxious child may cling, cry, have temper tantrums, complain of headaches or stomach pains, withdraw, and become sullen or irritable. How to help a child with anxiety about school? Let's consider some effective tips below. But first, what is your child anxious about?
Anxious children and teens worry about many different school-related issues, such as teachers, friends, fitting in, and/or being away from their parents. Some common worries include:
- Who will be my new teacher?
- What if my new teacher is mean?
- Will I make new friends in my class?
- Will I fit in?
- What if I can’t understand the new schoolwork?
- Will I look stupid?
- Who will I sit with at lunch?
- What if I miss the bus?
- Does my uniform fit?
- What if something bad happens to mom or dad while I am at school?
Your child worries. You know there is nothing to worry about, so you say, "Trust me. There's nothing to worry about." Done and done, right? No, it's not that simple. Why does your reassurance fall on deaf ears? It's not the ears causing the issue. Your anxious child desperately wants to listen to you, but the brain won't let it happen. During periods of anxiety, there is a rapid dump of chemicals and mental transitions executed in your body for survival. One by-product is that the prefrontal cortex - or more logical part of the brain - gets put on hold. While the more automated emotional brain takes over. In other words, it is really hard for your child to think clearly, use logic or even remember how to complete basic tasks. What should you do instead of trying to rationalize the worry away? Try the FEEL method:
• Freeze -- pause and take some deep breaths with your child. Deep breathing can help reverse the nervous system response.
• Empathize -- anxiety is scary. Your child wants to know that you get it.
• Evaluate -- once your child is calm, it's time to figure out possible solutions.
• Let Go - Let go of your guilt; you are an amazing parent giving your child the tools to manage their worry.
Nobody copes well when they are tired or hungry. Anxious children often forget to eat, don’t feel hungry, and don’t get enough sleep. You could provide frequent and nutritious snacks for your child. During this time, you also need to build in regular routines. Let life be more predictable for your child. These routines can involve morning and bedtime habits, as well as eating schedules.
Ask your child what is making him worried. Tell him how it's normal to have concerns. Before and during the first few weeks of school, set up a regular time and place to talk. Some children feel most comfortable in a private space with your undivided attention. It could be right before bed, or during mealtime. Your teenager will welcome any distraction to cut the intensity of their worries and feelings.
Children want reassurance that bad things won’t happen just to reduce their worry. Try not to assure them with “Don’t worry!” or “Everything will be fine!” Instead, encourage your child to think of ways to solve his problem. For example, “If (the worst) happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation.” It allows you to coach your child on how to cope with (and interpret) both real and imagined scary situations. You'll also give your child the tools he needs to cope with unexpected situations.
Sometimes role-playing a situation with your child can help him make a plan, and feel more confident that he'll be able to handle the situation. For example, let your child play the part of the demanding teacher or bullying classmate. Then, model appropriate responses and coping techniques for your child, to help them calm down. For more information on role-playing.
Encourage your child to look away from his worries, and focus on the positives. Ask your child, “What are three things that you're most excited about on your first day of school?” Most kids can think of something good. Even if it’s just eating a special snack or going home at the end of the day. Chances are that the fun aspects are simply getting overlooked by repetitive worries.
Also read: How To Ease Your Child's Separation Anxiety