Here are 5 things you can do to lessen your child’s anxiety
For some kids, going back to school is a time of excitement and fun. But for others, even in normal times, going back to school is stressful, even fearful. They may worry that they won’t make friends, or that they aren’t wearing the right clothes, or that they won’t have anyone to sit with at lunch, or that they might be made fun of in gym class, or that they might get bullied. These are just a few of the many things that could make your child fearful of going back to school. As the pandemic stretches on, a whole new set of fears has been added to the mix. Here are 5 things you can do to lessen your child’s anxiety.
Have a plan
Dealing with the lingering pandemic and these new variants can be confusing and fearful. That’s why you need to have a plan. What pandemic protocols will be implemented at your child’s school? Will your child be allowed to wear a mask, and if so, will the other children make fun of her? If she doesn’t wear a mask, will she be at a greater risk of contracting the virus?
These questions are valid, and they may be challenging. The best plan of attack is to get the facts. Remember, knowledge is power. If you don’t know your school’s plans, ask the principal or your school board. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider for guidance. And then include your child in those discussions.
We’re living through extraordinary times. People will write about this in the history books! Having a plan will give you the tools you’ll need to handle these unprecedented times effectively.
It’s possible that schools may need to switch back to remote learning at some point. By staying calm about these possible changes, you can lessen your child’s anxiety. That’s because they take their cues from you.
According to Elizabeth Reichert, a pediatric and adolescent psychologist at Stanford Children’s Health, to children, parents are like a lighthouse in the storm. They are that steady and predictable light that never wavers. As parents, your job is to be that lighthouse.
A research study published last October in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science on over 700 parents found that the more resilient they were, the less anxiety their children felt. Moreover, their children were less likely to show symptoms of distress like anxiety, mood problems, or aggressive behaviors.
One way to lessen your child’s fear about going back to school is to focus on the positive. Remind them of the good stuff school brings. Get them excited about the extracurricular activities they enjoy. Make shopping fun for all the back-to-school swag they’ll get. Point out all the fun things they love about school. This will spark your child’s good memories and help get them psyched to go back. Remember, the more positive you are, the more your child will feel a sense of safety and security.
“When you change the way you look at things,
the things you look at change.”
~ Wayne Dyer
Listen to your child
What is your child worried about? What do they expect will happen when they go back to school? If it’s too weird for them to have a sit-down talk with you, try asking a few questions in the car or while standing in line at the grocery store or while cooking dinner. If the atmosphere is less formal, they may feel more comfortable expressing themselves. For some children, having a private talk with undivided attention works best. Either way, ask questions and then listen.
Observe your child’s behavior
Children’s fear about school may manifest in a physical way. They might visit the school nurse complaining of a headache or stomach ache in order to be sent home. When children feel anxious, they may not know how to put their feelings into words. That’s why it’s important for you to be mindful of their behavior. Other signs of anxiety to look for include:
- They become clingy
- They fidget or seem unfocused
- They complain of various aches and pains
- They appear moody or emotional
- They have trouble eating or sleeping
Many children have spent over a year learning remotely. The thought of going back to school may trigger separation anxiety. They may have been cyberbullied during virtual learning. Even though in-person learning is best, there may be a number of reasons why your child is stressed about going back to school. It may take your child some time to adapt to a “new normal”, but if their fear lasts for more than two weeks, call your child’s doctor.
Take care of the basics
Make sure your child is eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. A lack of sleep can lead to an increase in depression, anxiety, and stress. The blue light from electronic devices affects our circadian rhythms making it harder to fall asleep. Turn off the computer and phone 90 minutes before bedtime. Making a ritual of bedtime will allow your child to get the good sleep they need.
You might be surprised to learn that eating certain foods can lower your child’s stress levels.
- * Have them eat a breakfast that includes protein. Protein will keep their blood sugar steady and help them feel full longer.
- * Encourage them to drink plenty of water. Even a slight amount of dehydration can affect a child’s mood.
- * Include yogurt in your child’s diet. The probiotics found in yogurt have been found to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
- * Introduce them to chamomile tea. One 2016 study found that long-term use of chamomile extract significantly reduced stress. It’s also a great way for your child to wind down at the end of the day.
Exercise is one of the best ways for children (and adults!) to reduce stress. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), exercise is an excellent way for your child to combat stress. Exercise releases the feel-good chemicals endorphins which are produced naturally by the nervous system to help us deal with pain or stress.
The fear they feel right now is usually temporary. Before you know it, you and your child will settle back into your familiar school day routine.
We can help
If your child continues to struggle with back-to-school anxiety, or if you feel you need additional help, please reach out to us. At Wallace Family Therapy, we are trained to provide the most effective treatment that meets your specific needs and challenges. We’re here to help you.