In This Episode:
Anxious feelings during back to school time are not uncommon especially in times of transition such as kindergarten, moving from elementary to middle school, from middle to high school, and then eventually college.
This time can be really stressful for kids and families. It may look like crying, clinginess, lower tolerance levels that lead to tantrums sometimes, somatic symptoms such as tummy aches and headaches, and crankiness.
Children may present as desperate and beg and plead to stay home. Some will try to bargaining and negotiate. Does this sound familiar?
It is totally “normal” for all of us as human beings to have worries. It’s the way that our brain is wired. However, going to school isn’t optional.
School is a “non-negotiable”. In fact, allowing your child to miss due to worries will often increase your child’s fear.
The chance for successful experience and having them realize that they can surpass the fears doesn’t get a chance to occur. It also limits children in many other ways.
Obviously, they miss the academic portion of school and get behind. They don’t get the opportunity to succeed and master certain skills.
This can be such a biggie! If they get behind in the schoolwork, often school seems like even more undesirable to them. It also has a social impact. At school kids foster friendships, as well as develop and practice social skills.
To set your child up for success, it’s super important to create a schedule and an environment where your child is getting plenty enough sleep, eating healthy meals and moving around physically. It just makes it easier when their body feels rested, nourished, and alive.
Use empathy to let your child know that you care. This makes a big difference. It starts with reflecting the feeling. It may sound like this, “You feel worried about 3rd grade, the thought of going back feels overwhelming”.
Through this approach you are helping your child with emotional literacy, but more importantly sending the message of “I get you... I understand... I know it’s hard... and I care.” If appropriate you can also tell a short snippet of a related story about yourself. But, be careful not to “one up” your child as that’s not helpful. This can go a long way.
If we respond with “there’s nothing to be scared about.” Then kids think, “My mom/dad doesn’t understand.” This can leave them feeling frustrated, hopeless and even more scared. And, this could make it even worse because they then lose the hope for support from their parents. I know this can be hard, especially with irrational fears, but trust me on this one – taking the time to validate your child’s feelings is so very helpful.
It’s also really helpful to try to figure out the root of your child’s concerns. This will help you develop a plan to cope. It also models for your child how to think things through as well.
When someone feels anxious, the alarm system in their brain is usually going off, so thinking is limited at best.
It’s important to know that what you think is the problem, may not be the problem. I see that in therapy frequently, when the child and the parent describe the issue as completely different.
It’s helpful sometimes to reach out to teachers, school counselors, therapists and such for support. They are in the business of helping kids, so they may have information that can make you and your child’s life much easier by helping you get through this problem.
Steer clear of Guilt or Shame when it comes to motivational efforts. Guilt (I’m doing something bad) and Shame (I am a bad person) can leave your child feeling less than and incapable. It not only will hinder them with this issue, but cause much greater issues in the long term.
Pick out some things that your child may like about school and focus on those. But, remember you don’t want to jump right to this, be sure to connect with your child and reflect their feelings first. If you jump right into convincing mode, you’re likely going to be met with deaf ears.
It’s important to mention the reality of how kids can smell anxiety in their parents a mile away. They often take cues from their parents to see how confident, how trusting, how secure they should feel about a situation. That’s why it’s so very important to be calm and collected yourself. This takes some looking within. It can be difficult though, so it’s more important than ever to engage in self soothing and reach out for support for yourself if necessary through a support group, trusted friend, yoga class, therapy, etc... Plain and simple, your child looks to you as “this is how I should react to the world.”
When you drop your child off at school, be supportive but calm and firm. A short and sweet kiss and a goodbye, “I love you. I see that your scared, but I know you’ll be okay here. We can see each other again after school.” helps. Sometimes it may feel heartbreaking to see your child cry and plead for you to stay, but if you continue to stand there and say goodbye over and over again, it just makes it harder on you, your child, and the classroom.
I love those little Worry Eaters for the younger kids. I found mine on Amazon. There are also several books out there.
For therapy options, I love using EMDR with kids and adults. In my experience, I’ve noticed that gets to the root of it quicker by desensitizing and reprocessing. Also, though stopping and therapeutic deep belly breaths can make a big difference.
I’ve also had great experiences with essential oils. DoTerra brand has a blend, Serenity, which is good. I really like Eden Gardens brand though. They are less costly and really good. I use them is session with my clients for grounding and calming. I love lavender, peppermint, bergamot, and lemon.