The beginning of the school year brings a fresh start and lots of excitement for many kids and parents. It also brings many anxieties to the forefront. Some kids will share and be clear about their nerves, telling parents that they are nervous or worried. Others may pose many questions about the school year, seeking constant reassurance. While others may present with physical complaints, complaining of stomachaches or headaches. Whether your child has experienced these anxieties before or not, here are a few things to help them through these moments:
1. Validate their feelings – Acknowledging a child’s anxieties can be comforting for them and can also be the first step to developing a plan to address them. Even if you cannot relate, your child’s feelings are always very real to them.
2. Normalize their anxieties – Many children are nervous about the beginning of the school year! Kids like to know what to expect and that includes knowing their routines. The beginning of the school year changes that routine, even if they love school. This can be an overwhelming time since it is impossible to know all aspects of the school day, peers, and teachers beforehand.
3. Remind them of other successes – Connect this experience with other anxious moments (particularly around beginning school) and how your child survived them. Often, we think things will be worse than they end up being and we need to be reminded of another similar time. Sometimes, experiences are awful. If they were able to get through those awful moments before, they probably can again.
4. Problem Solve – Talk with your child about what they can do to manage their anxieties in different situations that they are worried about. While every parent wants to reassure their child that bad things won’t happen, we know that they actually can. Working with your kids to identify strategies to handle their “worst case scenario” helps them feel prepared for these moments.
a. Deep Breathing – Practice deep belly breathing to facilitate calmness. In through their nose and out through their mouth, like smelling flowers and blowing out birthday candles. Bubbles can also be a great way to teach deep breathing since they will get many more bubbles out when they use a deep, calm breath.
b. Progressive Muscle Relaxation – Teach children how to tense and relax their muscles to aide in relaxation during anxious moments.
c. Erase the “Mights” and be a Detective – Help your child look for the facts and decide if what they are thinking is actually true. Develop a list of clues for and against their negative thought.
d. Develop a coping statement – Having a “go to” positive statement can be helpful in anxious situations. Every child will have something different that resonates with them, but most kids can relate to at least one of the below.
“I can do it, even if it’s hard/scary”
“I am nervous, but this feeling will pass”
“This isn’t the best situation, but it’s not the worst either”
“I’ve done this before, I can do it again”
5. Keep your own anxieties in check – A new school year can be anxiety-provoking for parents as much as kids, especially if your child has had difficulty in the past. Children can pick up on the anxiety of their parents, so fake it ‘til you make it! They don’t need to know that you’re feeling nervous too and if you are struggling to hide it, the strategies they can use are helpful for parents too!