6 Simple Ways To Deal With Back-to-School Anxiety
Takeaway: To help your child deal with her anxiety, (1) Figure out what’s bothering her, (2) Help her create a coping plan, (3) Redirect her attention to the positives, (4) Ease her back into a daily routine, (5) Practise being apart, (6) Ask for help when you need it.
If you’ve noticed your child is more anxious than usual, here are some things you can do.
Children don’t always know when they’re feeling anxious, so you might have to look out for the telltale signs. For example, has your child’s sleep cycle changed? For example, is she finding it hard to fall asleep, or is she waking up very early? Then, does she seem more clingy of late? And is she obsessing over things that never used to bother her? Perhaps she’s more restless and agitated than usual? Or does she have stomachaches, headaches, and other physical issues, even though there’s nothing wrong with her? If you spot signs like these, it’s time to step in. And here’s how.
1. Figure out what’s troubling her.
Try to pay close attention to themes that keep popping up when she talks to you. The challenge is that you’ll have to do this subtly. Children often don’t want to sit down and ‘have a talk’, so you’ll need to make the most of random heart-to-hearts like when you’re driving her somewhere or putting her to bed. And when you do find her opening up, resist the urge to probe too much. Ask a question or two and then let her talk. So, rather than asking, ‘Are you afraid of going back to school?’, you could ask, ‘What’s school going to be like this year?’ It’s a much more neutral, open-ended question that sets her up to talk about all kinds of things she might be thinking of.
2. Help her create a coping plan.
Once you’ve identified some of her anxieties, you can help her create a plan to tackle them. This way, you’re helping her accept what she’s feeling deep down but then giving her some coping tools. For example, if she’s afraid of getting COVID-19, it’s a great time to go over basic safety measures. You could even make a checklist that she runs through every morning before leaving for school. This sort of planning takes attention away from things she can’t control (e.g., a rapidly spreading virus), and puts it on the things she can (e.g., taking the right precautions).
3. Redirect her attention to the positives.
Creating a coping plan is the first step to redirecting attention to the positives. But there’s more you can do. For example, if she’s anxious about being away from home, have her tell you about some fun memories from school. As she narrates them, she’ll gradually remember that life away from home can be a lot of fun. This jumping back and forth between a future fear and a past success is very useful. It reframes the future as something worth looking forward to because the past worked out so well. Remember, though, that you’re redirecting her fears, not dismissing them outright. So, if your child brings up something negative, first give her the space to vent and tell her it’s okay to be worried and anxious. Only after validating her feelings should you try to nudge her in a more constructive direction.
4. Ease her back into a daily routine.
Help bring back order into her life by setting up a daily routine. Talk to her about it in advance and brainstorm ideas — specifically, simple and clear steps that she can follow. You can write the steps down as a schedule for older children, and for younger ones, you could print out pictures as a guide. Try and set up a morning routine that helps get her ready for school, a homework routine for when she returns home, and a bedtime routine to help her wind down before sleeping. (Since poor sleep can lead to even more anxiety, this nighttime routine is probably the most important.) You could even set up a habit-tracking calendar and have her tick off each routine when she’s done with it. That way, she’ll be motivated when she sees an unbroken row of ticks, and you reward her for, say, a 7-day habit winning streak.
5. Practise being apart to help her with separation anxiety.
If your child is anxious about leaving you, encourage her to spend more time by herself to build up her tolerance. For example, make it a point to quietly leave the room when she’s playing, so she gets used to you not being around. And gradually increase the time you spend apart. Sometimes it helps to create a ‘goodbye’ ritual (a special wave or kiss) for when you’re stepping out of the house for a bit. It’ll become a familiar routine to take the sting out of a scary separation. For very young children, you could also try using a transitional object like a button or a small toy. They’ll keep these in their pocket and touch them to feel connected to you. Another trick is to convert the ‘unknown’ day ahead into a ‘known’ story by discussing what both of you will do when you’re apart. For example, describe what might happen in school that day, and talk about what you’ll be doing in the meantime.
6. Ask for help when you need it.
Sometimes, your child will need a little extra help to handle her anxieties. Many schools have teachers and psychologists who can help, but consider consulting a child psychology practice for a broader range of specialists. The Ed Psych Practice offers online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and colleges in London. We have psychologists and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support.
- Phone: +44 (0) 78 3344 7356
- E-mail: Office@TheEdPsych.com
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