Back to school jitters? Parents…you can help!
The summer has flown by and many of us are preparing our children for their return to school. While some children are excited and eager to get back many others struggle with severe anxiety about the dreaded 1st day. It’s not uncommon and in fact it is quite normal for children to feel some anxiety with the start of a new school year. This is true for youth of all ages, K-12 and young adults entering or returning to college. Reoccurring thoughts of fitting in the right peer group, being able to handle the work load and expectations of new teachers frequently preoccupy the minds of many. It’s easy for us as parents to say things like “you will be fine”, “it’s ok”, but many times these statements are not helpful to the child who is experiencing physical and emotional stress.
10 things that you can do to help:
- Suggest to your child that he or she write down all their thoughts about their return to school. There is no right or wrong answer.
- Set aside time with no distractions (phones off) to discuss the list. There may be irrational statements on the list such as “I have no friends”. It is not uncommon especially for teenagers to have an “all” or “nothing” thought process. Listen first THEN respond with supportive comments,such as, “John and Joey were over several times this summer” or “I have seen you meet new friends and be successful”.
- Help your child feel good about the first day. This can be something as simple as putting special treats in their lunch box or buying them a new outfit to wear on that first day. If your child left for college send letters or care packages and schedule them to arrive during the first week of school ~ that will put a smile on their face.
- If possible, work with your child to plan a back to school party with former classmates.This will help ease their anxiety.
- Make sure you attend the open houses, meet the teacher day and tour the classroom~ especially for younger children.
- Teach your child strategies for coping with their anxiety. Deep breathing, counting to 10, journaling, and calling a supportive friend or family member are all easy ways to combat anxiety. If they are discussed in advance they are more likely to be used during stressful times.
- Develop a plan with your child in advance in the event their anxiety results in physical symptoms, such as, vomiting, excessive nail biting or fainting.
- Let a teacher or trusted school administrator know in advance that your child is experiencing anxiety. The fear of being called on in class, or having to introduce yourself on the first day can be very scary. Try role playing with your child in advance.
- Reassure your child that there are MANY other kids experiencing the exact same feelings. Many times children; especially teenagers, think they are the only ones experiencing anxiety. Anxiety Disorders are one of the top 3 reasons youth receive professional counseling services.
- Some youth may need medication and or counseling to manage anxiety. Contact a Licensed Psychiatrist or Professional Counselor to explore further options if the anxiety is persistent or interferes with your child’s ability to attend school on a daily basis.
Best wishes for a successful and smooth back to school transition!!
Debbie Riddle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Delaware and New Jersey and CEO of Total Family Solutions.www.totalfamilysolutions.com