Start of the School Year - How to Help our Children with Anxiety?

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Starting and even going back to school can be big time for the little people in our lives.  Equally it can be a big time for us as their parents.

This article is designed to help you know how to support our children through this school transition.

Anticipation & Unusual Behaviours

At first you may have found that the gathering together the school bag, the uniform and the big brimmed hat, for the start of the school year, was all pretty exciting for your little one.

However, now that school is about to start your child may not be interested in talking about school at all …

For others, the first few weeks may start off positively and everyone is relieved, but then something changes and your child doesn’t want to go anymore.

Or perhaps you are noticing some changes in your child’s behaviour that seem out of the norm and that don’t appear to correlate with what is going on in their world at the moment.  Common examples might be:

  • “My tummy hurts”
  • “I am so tired”
  • “I am going to vomit”
  • “I can’t sleep”
  • “What if” scenarios … “What if I my teacher is mean…”, “What if I forget something …” 
  • “I’m not hungry"
  • “I just want to be with you, can’t we do school at home?"
  • Angry outbursts
  • “Nobody wants to be my friend / to play with me”
  • Lots of crying
  • Constantly needing to pee
  • Untameable energy

Whether starting school or returning to school, starting the school year is often a time of heightened anxiety for children.

 

As parents, what can we do?

Manage our own anxiety - a common mistake is to purely focus on helping our children mange their fears or anxieties, rather than our own. 

Often as parents, we can be both excited and nervous for our children as they head out in to the world.  Thoughts and questions of identity such as -

  • Will they be ok? 
  • What if they don’t keep up with the other kids?
  • Will they make friends? 
  • What is my role now? 
  • Should I go back to work?
  • How will I manage work / family schedule?

Our children are like laser sensitive radar sponges picking up on our every emotion. The more we practice self-care and keep ourselves regulated and at ease, the more at ease the child will be feeling.

 

Practice and model a diet of self-care:

  • A balanced diet
  • Keep hydrated – 60% of us are reported to be dehydrated, putting stress on our systems and our window of tolerance
  • Quality sleep – insufficient rest can heighten our struggle to cope
  • Be social - spend time with those that matter to us and help us feel good
  • Time outdoors – calms our nervous system and lifts our mood
  • Exercise – work off that excess energy that can come with stress
  • Have fun – laughter is one of the greatest antidotes to anxiety
  • Quiet time – can gradually bring our nervous system into harmony
  • Don’t rush - schedule ‘buffer’ time between commitments, so that there is every chance you will be calm when you are with your children
  • Realistic expectations of ourselves and our children

 

For our children with anxiety:

  • Keep the routines the same – routine breeds predictability and comfort
  • Do not overschedule – they are already dealing with a lot and they need space to process their experiences
  • Develop a habit of movement - going for a walk / bike ride / walk the dog together after school
  • Develop a routine of together-time – playing a board game after dinner, baking together on the weekend, reading stories at the end of the night, eating a family meal together
  • Rather than reacting to their anger or outbursts that are likely to come, be with your child’s emotions – for example an angry outburst may actually be about ‘I felt really scared at school today when I couldn’t find my friends’, validate their fear
  • Let your kids cry and be there with them as they do – this lets them know that it is normal to have big emotions and that you are ready to be with them when they want to speak - often after the tears come words, be patient
  • Allow their blankies and fury friends to stay with them – as our children step more out into the world it can be tempting to expect them to ‘grow up’.  Allow those comfort objects to remain a part of their life at home.
  • Anticipate that they may be extremely - hungry, thirsty, overwhelmed and tired - and plan for these scenarios at the end of the day
  • Manage separations – separation anxiety is very normal.  Try to make it easy as you can for both of you.  Validate your child’s feelings, let them know that you believe in their ability to cope, remind them that you will be there at pick up and after a warm goodbye do not linger – it only makes it more painful for both of you.

Sending our children out in to the world is big for both them and us.  At times however, it can be more than we and they know how to manage.  If you are at all concerned about how your child is coping, seek support.  Early intervention always results in the best outcomes for everyone. 

If you feel you would like some child counselling or parental support, please contact us at 9532-4567 / info@thegrovecounselling.com

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Sarah Sacks

Sarah is a qualified and experienced counsellor, meditation teacher and group facilitator. Sarah's years of body based based practices, in meditation and yoga, have led Sarah to believe in the inherent wisdom of the body. In line with this belief, Sarah has trained and qualified as a Whole Body Focusing Orientated Therapist, Transpersonal Counsellor, Holistic Counsellor, Meditation Teacher and Group Psychotherapy Facilitation. Over the last 5 years Sarah has worked in the not-for-profit sector, the community health sector and privately, as a generalist counsellor and group facilitator. Sarah has experience working with children, families and adults around issues of; isolation, anxiety, depression, grief, loss, trauma, anger, separation, addiction and general mental health. Sarah's warm and intuitive counselling style, along with her extensive life experience, enables Sarah to gently support her clients towards their own path of change. Qualifications - Bachelor of Holistic Counselling, Diploma of Transpersonal Counselling, Bachelor of Business (International Marketing & Trade), Diploma of Arts (Japanese), ACA (level 2), qualifying member for CAPAV