Back to School: Easing Your Child’s Anxiety (While Easing Your Own!)
The heat waves have dissipated, the crowds at the pool are starting to thin and that familiar list of school supplies has arrived. Fall is near, and it’s time to send the kids back to school.
Starting a new school year can be a source of mixed emotions for your children. While some kids feel eager to see their friends and get elbow-deep in finger paint, some may feel anxious about academic expectations, fitting in with classmates, sports performance and/or their new teacher(s). And while some kids are easy-to-read and clearly sway one way or the other, parents should be aware that transitions, like going back to school, can weigh heavy on their kids’ minds.
One of the most helpful things a parent can do for a child experiencing anxiety about going back to school is to simply be their confidant, there to listen to them when needed. And if your child does not come to you freely with their concerns, you may have to kick-off the conversation on your own. Here are a few tips on creating a successful “back to school” conversation with your child:
- Make the time.
Free from distractions like cell phones or television, parents often find success talking with their kids in the car, while sharing an activity like tossing a football or while sharing a meal. Your child may be slow to share, but most children appreciate the time their parent spends focused on their needs.
- Avoid “Yes” or “No” Questions.
Asking your child open-ended questions (like the following) can assist greatly with understanding their anxieties:
* “Have you heard anything about your new teacher?”
* “Do you have anyone you hope (or hope isn’t) in your class?”
* “What do you think will be your least favorite class (or subject)?”
* “What do you think will be the best (and worst) part about going back to school?”
And don’t be afraid to ask “Why?” when your child answers to dig a little deeper. Sometimes it takes a little extra push to get your child to open up.
- Normalize your child’s feelings.
Kids have a tendency to think that they are alone in their experience: that they are the only child to struggle with math, the first ever to strike out, the sole focus of a difficult teacher. Predict the thoughts and feelings your child may be having, and tell stories of others who have felt or likely feel the same. Telling your child that it is normal to feel what they are feeling can have a reassuring, calming effect.
- Share your own experience.
Have any stories of successes or failures that can relate to your child’s experience? Share them! Letting your child know how you handled the things they are facing can both draw you closer and give them a solution to the problem they may be facing.
Does your child have a specific anxiety or anxieties? Alleviate their concern by coming up with a “plan of action” for each of the things they fear may go wrong. Are they afraid they will struggle with Chemistry? Acknowledge they might, and plan to set aside time to help, seek tutoring, or work with their teacher. Are they afraid they may not do well in sports? Practice with them and encourage them to invite friends over to play. Difficulties with friends? Work with your child on ways to interact with other kids: games, humor, after-school engagements, etc. The greatest and most important message to give your child is that you are there for them, that struggles are normal and that there are solutions to every problem.
Facing “Back to School” time with anticipation, these conversations can be of great help to both parent and child. Should you seek any additional help or suggestions in coping with any of your child’s school-related anxieties, we at Stenzel Clinical Services are here to help. Contact us online or at: 630.588.1201 for a consultation or to set up an appointment.
We wish you and your family a happy and productive school year!