Helping Your Child Cope With School Anxiety


Children are incredibly resilient. They are able to take on challenges and bounce back from difficulties. Even with the transition …

Children are incredibly resilient. They are able to take on challenges and bounce back from difficulties.

Even with the return to school amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, most children will experience an initial mixture of excitement and nervousness, and they will eventually adjust to the school routine.

At the same time, some increase in anxiety is to be expected with the return to school in person. Parents can be proactive in supporting their children during this adjustment and reduce the risk of nervousness leading to anxiety disorders.

[READ: How to Overcome Social Anxiety.]

What steps can parents take to support their children?

1. Follow the flight attendants’ instructions and place the oxygen mask over your own mouth and nose before helping others, including your children.

Flight attendants insist on putting on your oxygen mask first because you won’t be able to help those around you if you run out of oxygen. Likewise, parents need to take care of their own physical and emotional health so that they can support their children and serve as role models for healthy behavior.

Many parents are under tremendous stress and worry about their children’s return to school. It is important for parents to find ways to deal with their own anxiety because children are very sensitive to their parents’ feelings and anxiety can be contagious.

Parents can find practical ways to take care of themselves, such as:

– Take a short walk.

– Call a friend.

– Watch a favorite show with their partner.

– Take a few deep breaths throughout the day to anchor yourself.

Parents can also take the opportunity to talk to their children about how they are feeling and how they are doing. Modeling the labeling of healthy emotions and coping skills is one of the most important ways for parents to support their child.

2. Talk to your child in an age appropriate way.

Early elementary age: keep it simple. Ask how the return to school is going. What were the ups and downs with going back to school in person? Avoid leading questions such as “What are you worried about with school?” Since your child is not necessarily worried. Make sure the child is doing what they can do to be safe (wearing masks, washing their hands, social distancing) and that the adults in the school are working hard to keep teachers and students safe.

Upper elementary school and middle school: help the child learn to distinguish between rumors and facts. Check how the school is going. Ask them how they like their teacher, what subjects they like and if there are any difficult ones, or the names of their friends and what their interests are. Discuss the importance of following health guidelines for taking care of each other.

High School: Ask how school is going both socially and academically. Provide honest and factual information. Participate in problem solving and decision making. Discuss issues or topics in more depth and ask for their opinion with explanations.

[READ: Tips for Relieving Daily Stress and Calming Down.]

3. Validate the children and have confidence in their ability to meet challenges.

Many parents find that children often respond with one word to their questions about school. So it is even more important to validate everything your child says about school to encourage them to share their experiences with parents.

When children feel listened to and validated by their parents, it strengthens the parent-child relationship, which protects many psychiatric risks, including anxiety, and increases the likelihood that children actively communicate with their parents.

Contrary to what many parents think, validating your child does not mean agreeing with him. Instead, validation means recognizing the validity of what someone is saying and feeling. For example, “It makes sense that you feel like you hate school right now, especially with your friends who are in a different class. This doesn’t mean that as a parent you accept that they should hate school, but that you understand that is how their child feels.

After validating everything they say, it may sometimes take some effort for the parent to find the kernel of truth in whatever the child or adolescent says; parents can then ask questions and support problem solving and perspective taking. Many parents naturally feel anxious when their child expresses discomfort or distress and quickly goes into repair mode, which can be crippling and frustrating for children. Validation helps set up smoother communication and interaction.

At the same time, research sheds light on the importance of balancing child validation while expressing confidence in her child’s ability to face and manage challenges. Rather than diving in and saving their child during a challenge, parents can validate the difficulty while helping their child gradually develop tolerance to discomfort for healthy development, promote resilience and decrease the risk of anxiety disorders. .

4. Establish consistent routines.

Children feel safe (and, therefore, more confident and less anxious) when their daily routines are familiar and predictable. A consistent schedule gives children a predictable and quieter day.

This means having a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine that ensures adequate relaxation and sleep, which in turn helps children be more rested in the morning. A consistent wake-up and breakfast routine, along with choosing the clothes and backpacks packed the night before, will help reduce feelings of rush in the morning and can help set up a quieter day. An after school routine of snacks, relaxation, extracurricular activities, homework, and downtime / recess helps set up a smoother transition to bedtime.

5. Prioritize health.

Healthy bodies and healthy minds are deeply interconnected. Make sure children get enough sleep, get physical activity, and eat healthy foods.

For example, children aged 3 to 5 should get 10 to 13 hours of sleep (including naps) each day; children 6 to 12 years old should get 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night; and teens should get 8-10 hours of sleep per night to promote optimal health.

Find fun ways for your child to get adequate physical activity by finding an after-school program that your child enjoys and has an active component, such as joining a sports team, swimming, gymnastics, dancing, or martial arts. Physical activity is beneficial for physical health and helps reduce anxiety and stress while improving focus and mood.

Health is also affected by social connections and support. Parents can check out how friendships and peer interactions are going, especially after the past year, where many children have missed out on opportunities to practice their social skills. Parents can help facilitate compatible outdoor playmates to help strengthen their children’s social bond and skills.

[READ: How to Cope With Coronavirus Anxiety.]

When to worry about parents

While most children will adjust to school smoothly, childhood anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem among children and throughout the pandemic, childhood psychiatric disorders have doubled.

Therefore, it is important for parents to know what worrying signs to look out for. Warning signs vary with age and may indicate the need for professional treatment if they persist for several weeks.

Preschool children may show regression in behaviors, such as:

– Withdrawal.

– Suck your thumb.

– Nocturnal enuresis.

– Sleep disturbances.

– Changes in appetite.

– Physical symptoms (stiffness).

– An increased fear of the dark.

Primary school children can have more:

– Irritability.

– Aggression.

– Sticky behaviors.

– Nightmares.

– Sleep disturbances.

– Difficulty concentrating.

– Somatic disorders (headache, stomach pain, nausea).

– School avoidance.

– Withdrawal from activities and friends.

Teenagers can have more:

– Agitation with increased conflict with family and friends.

– Loss of interest in previous areas of interest.

– Physical complaints.

– Delinquent behavior.

– Substance consumption.

– Difficulty concentrating.

– Sleep and eating disorders.

– School avoidance.

If parents see any signs that children might be suffering from more severe cases of anxiety, they should speak to their pediatrician.

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