For our children, thoughts of returning to school can be filled with excitement or riddled with jitters. What should I wear the first day? Who’s going to be in my class? What if I don’t like my teachers? What if the work is too hard? What if my friends are different?”
These are all questions that parents hear over and over as the first day of school draws near, and they are all normal and typical. With some good listening, reminders of past first days, and a few hugs or pats-on-the-back, we can coach our children through their concerns.
Sometimes, though, we notice that their worries seem bigger or more severe, the questions keep coming, tears accompany the questions, and the fears become seemingly more unrealistic: “What if everyone hates me?” or “What if something happens to you while I’m at school?”
If this begins to happen, first and foremost, listen and empathize with their concerns. Talking about their fears out loud may be enough to squelch those jitters. If not, ask them about times when they didn’t know anyone and then made a new friend; or help them recall other instances when they successfully navigated new or difficult situations. Working with them to realize for themselves that their fears are normal but not necessarily reality-based can help them overcome their challenges and feel ready to embrace the school year ahead.
There are many terrific apps to help kids with anxiety and stress, including Breathe2Relax and iCan: Anxiety Free. Taking a yoga or mindfulness meditation class with your child is a great way to spend time with them while helping them (and you) develop new and better coping mechanisms as you approach a new school year.
If you reach the point where, despite your best efforts, your child’s anxiety persists or gets worse, it may be time to consider seeking professional help. You know your child best and if you see significant changes in his or her mood, behavior, sleep patterns or appetite, it’s definitely time to contact a professional. It’s wise to start with your pediatrician so as to rule out any medical issues that might be triggering emotional distress, such as vitamin deficiencies or a thyroid problem. In the absence of medical findings, child psychologists or psychotherapists can provide the extra support and tools that some children might need to overcome their fears. There are many strategies that children and their parents can be taught, to help them overcome excess worry and stress, and make this the best school year ever. For more info, visit thelifesolutioncenter.net or call 203-636-0080.
Maud Purcell, MSW, LSCW, CEAP, is the executive director of the Life Solution Center of Darien.