Do you hear it? That’s the collective moan of children across the state of Ohio as they prepare to start another new school year. For most children, the first day jitters and worries about new class schedules and social interactions go away within a few days. However, for some children, the new school year can bring on anxiety that can disrupt their ability to focus and be successful in the classroom. Anxiety is defined as intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. According to Dr. Kynetta McFarlane of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, experiencing some anxiety is a normal emotional response for individuals of all ages, especially during periods of transition. Small levels of anxiety help motivate individuals to get to their destination on time and complete daily tasks.
Parents and caregivers can address the normal worries and concerns of their children by having open conversations about how they deal with stress and by sharing some of their own back to school experiences.“One of the best things we can do as parents and caregivers is to show them how to handle things,” states Dr. McFarlane. These conversations are important to show children and teens that they are not alone in their feelings and/or worries. It is important to give children a chance to express concerns and help them identify the emotions that are connected to their worries.
Engage with your child to help them develop age appropriate coping tools to deal with their worries and stress. Dr. McFarlane suggests trying activities that involve rhythm, walking, or games that require you to take turns, as a way to help calm children who are experiencing anxiety. Practicing deep breathing is another wonderful calming tool that can be useful for all ages and requires no additional materials. There are a variety of different coping tools and techniques available to help children and while the tools and techniques used may vary, the important thing is that children develop coping skills to help them navigate new challenges and transitions.
If several weeks of the new school year have gone by and your child is still expressing worries about going to school, or if their worries have increased and are now about other areas of their life, Dr. McFarlane suggests parents and caregivers consider, “how long and how strong” the feelings of anxiety are in determining if their child may need additional supports or resources.
How long have they felt anxiety?
Consider how long the periods of anxiety have persisted. For example, Dr. McFarlane explains, “It’s normal for children to start worrying about school a few weeks before it starts; however, a child expressing worry about the new school year at the beginning of summer is cause for concern.”
How strong is the feeling of anxiety?
Consider the intensity of the anxious feelings. For example, has the worry about starting a new school year turned into being stressed and unhappy about life in general? Is this anxiety keeping the child from enjoying activities or affecting sleep patterns?
Children displaying strong or intense levels of anxiety may need to seek additional supports.
What can I do to help my child cope?
The most effective way for parents and caregivers to help children cope with anxiety is to have open and honest conversations about their feelings and experiences. While children may not have the same types of stressors that adults do, they are still processing situations that are new to them and can cause feelings of confusion and/or vulnerability. Try to connect with your children by not only asking questions, but also by sharing your thoughts, feelings and experiences.
Check out these great conversation starters to get your kids talking:
How was your day at school?
What was the best thing that happened to you at school today?
What, if anything, would you change about your day today?
What are you looking forward to working on this week?
Tell me about the other children in your class. What are they like?
Who did you sit by at lunch today?
What did you do at recess today?
What are you learning about this week?