Anxiety as the New School Begins?
School anxiety can be very real for kids as summer wanes and the school-year approaches. Kids are filled with a variety of emotions as they approach the new school year: sadness as they count down the last fun-filled days of summer, coupled by excitement to start the first day of a new class with the potential of new friends and new experiences. For many kids, anxiety is very real and scary.
The “What-Ifs” can fuel anxious thoughts. What if…?
- …the teacher doesn’t like me?
- …my friends aren’t in my class?
- …I don’t get picked for soccer?
The list of what-ifs’ can be daunting, but with a little help from parents, kids can learn to manage their anxiety about school:
1. Recognize anxiety in its different forms
While some kids will be open and verbal about their worries, others may not say much. Some nonverbal cues to look for if you expect your child is experiencing anxiety: somatic complaints that don’t have a medical origin, difficulty concentrating or focusing, restlessness, angry outbursts, withdrawal, and/or sleep difficulties.
2. Open up the conversation
Kids don’t always open up to adults and let them know they are stressed. Use mealtimes, commutes to activities, and even down-time watching TV to check in. “What are you looking forward to this year the most? Is there anything that you aren’t looking forward to or are worried about?”
3. Normalize your child’s worries
Remind your kid that everyone has worries. Help them recognize their positive attributes, as well as noting times that they have conquered similar trials. For younger kids, it may help to use their favorite super hero comparisons, such as “What do you think Spiderman does if he’s nervous before a big day?”
4. Help kids “dissect” their fears
Does you kid love science experiments? Encourage her to do a little experiment on her own school anxiety. Ask your child to name the worry, then help him to break it down:
- What are the chances of the worry coming true?
- Is the worrying helping you in any way?
- Is it making things worse?
- Have you been in this situation before?
- If so, what helped you get through it?
- What didn’t help?
5. Be mindful of over-scheduling
How many adults do you know that have a music lesson, dance class, or sport every day after work? Kids these days are inundated with opportunities and activities. While some amount of extracurricular activity is great for a kid’s growth, too many structured activities can cause unnecessary stress and exhaustion. Children have a difficult time identifying stress, so it’s a good idea to help them plan a manageable schedule that allows enough time for sleep, nutritious meals, and some good-old fashioned DOWN time.
6. Recognize when your child may need help
Anxiety and worries are a normal part of life, especially for kids. Be patient, supportive, and a good listener, and don’t be afraid to be creative with some of the tools above. However, if your child’s anxiety is so pervasive that it inhibits their ability to function, then don’t be afraid to seek help from a licensed mental health professional. Therapy can help a child with anxiety to cope with transitions, gain skills to manage their symptoms and stress, and deal with the ‘what ifs’ that come up through life.