Back to School Tips with an Anxious Child
A new school year is just around the corner and many of our children, whether they are starting elementary school or college, are getting that nervous excitement to see what the new school year brings. New classes, new teachers and new friends can be exciting. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies though.
For some, just hearing the words back-to-school may send shivers of anxiety down their backs. Children who struggle with strong feelings of anxiety may want to run the other way or maybe they curl up and cry. Many may not have words to express their feelings and can become frustrated or may show their anxiety by acting out if they don’t think anyone is listening to them by having many angry outbursts, crying a lot or becoming clingy. They may also complain of physical symptoms such as stomach aches (remember the trick of holding the thermometer to the light bulb?), and often times, these complaints are just nerves and will go away once your child adjusts (usually after a couple of hours at school).
Try these tips to help your child with anxiety:
• Take away as many unknowns as possible. Plan a visit to the school and visit with the teacher before school starts.
• Establish the school routine at least one week prior to school starting to help reduce bedtime and wake-up stress. If your child experiences higher anxiety, start now. Earlier bedtimes, rise times, breakfast at the routine time, getting dressed, etc. The more you can do now, the better.
• No one copes well when hungry or tired; make sure your child gets enough sleep and eats a healthy breakfast (the less sugar, the better).
• Normalize the worries, “Everyone feels nervous before school, even the teachers.” Be careful not to discount your child’s feelings by listening and trying to comfort your child through his worries.
• Help your child problem-solve how to fix his fears, “Let’s think of a way to handle that situation.” This is a powerful strategy because it is teaching your child coping skills and critical thinking.
• Teach some relaxation strategies like deep breathing (imagine blowing a large bubble).