The time to go back to school is quickly approaching. If you have a child who may be more prone to worry this can be an especially anxiety inducing time. New schedules, new transitions, new classrooms, new teachers, new peers, the list goes on and on. With more demands placed on children during the school year, the transition back to school can be stressful and disruptive to the entire family. Try some of these strategies to help squash some of those back to school worries and ease your child into a new school routine.
Take Care of the Basics. Anxiety, attention, focus and self regulation can suffer if your child's basic needs are not being met. Increased anxiety can effect a child's eating and sleeping habits. Check to make sure your child is getting the fuel they need with proper nutrition and adequate sleep. Provide consistent routines around meal and snack times as well as bedtimes.
Encourage "Worry Talk Time." Allow your child to discuss their worries. Set aside a few minutes of distraction free (no cell phones, computers, or household chores) 1:1 time each day for your child to share their worries with you. For younger children this may be during the bedtime routine. For tweens and teens this may be in the car while driving, or over a cup of froYo (your teen may welcome some level of activity to help decrease the intensity of their worry).
Avoid Reassurance. As a parent it is natural to want to take away your child's worry by saying "There's nothing to worry about" or "Everything will be okay." These reassurances often do not help decrease worry. When your child is worried their emotional brain takes over, leaving them unable to access the logical part of their brain. Instead of assuring your child, empathize with them and show compassion by letting them know that you 'get' their worry.
Problem Solve. Help your child figure out possible solutions to their problems and give them the tools to cope with any unexpected situations that may arise. As parents your goal should be to move your child in a direction of independence. Training your child to be a critical thinker is a step toward being an independent problem solver. For example, "If you can't open your locker" or "Don't have anyone to sit with at lunch." Discuss with your child ways they could handle the problem. Help them come up with 2-3 solutions so they have back up plans.
Role playing 'scary' situations such as a dealing with teasing or bullying can also help your child build confidence and assertive communication skills. Allow your child to play the part of the bully and help them come up with possible responses. This will help your child master solutions to their worries.
Focus on Good News. A worried brain is one that tends to focus more on the negatives in a situation. Help your child figure out what is "going right" in the situation. Ask your child "What is the good news about heading back to school?" Help them find something good about a situation or something to look forward to. Often times the positives in a situation get overlooked and worries get exaggerated.
Model Confidence. Remind yourself that everyone experiences some level of worry. Worry can even be helpful as it protects us from danger. There is a good chance that your child may have some worries on that first day of school. Children observe how their parents act and are taking cues from them. If a parent is modeling confidence then your child will understand that there is no reason to worry. Explore your own worries with your child. Discuss how you problem solve and share your step-by-step plan for decreasing some of your worries. Be your child's worry champion!
If you see your child's worries persist and intensify longer than an initial adjustment period back to school please seek help from a professional. You, your child, and your family should not have to suffer when there are so many ways to help get a handle on your worries.