June 8, 2022
Starting school is supposed to be a great and exciting experience. New friends, new teachers, and opportunities. Some children look forward to embracing this major milestone, while others are anxious and worried.
Although it may seem surprising, for a substantial number of children starting school can be an anxiety-inducing experience. That is why parents should do their utmost to make their children feel comfortable when facing this entirely new and unknown world. In this article, I will discuss what parents can do to help their children.
Strategies in Helping Kids With Anxiety
Reassure Your Child
Whenever we hear from our kids “Mom, I feel anxious,” we are very tempted to give them some shallow reassurance like the following: “You’ll be fine” or “Everything will be ok once you meet your new teacher and make new friends.” But the truth is that these phrases do nothing to help your kids. In fact, when you state these things to your child, he or she may feel like you just do not really care.
We, as parents, need to understand that it is ok to feel nervous when we are dealing with a new and unfamiliar situation. This is particularly true for the first day of school for toddlers. As human beings, we are programmed to be like that and there is nothing wrong with that. So that is why it is important to try and acknowledge your child’s feelings and make them feel like they are listened to. This is an important part of helping kids with anxiety.
Tell your children: “Don’t worry, your feelings are completely normal, and your other classmates are nervous as well.” You can also say something like: “Dear, I totally understand how you feel, when I was starting school, I was feeling the same way.” This is one example of dealing with anxiety in kids.
You can also empower your children by reminding them about a past situation when they felt nervous, but which they managed successfully. Remind them about their success. This should help your child get the hint – if they managed to go through a stress-inducing situation before, then they will be able to do the same again. This is another strategy for helping kids with anxiety.
Talk Often About School
Discussing school with your child is one way of helping kids with anxiety. It is quite common for parents to think “My child is feeling anxious about school. I better avoid talking about it.” Wrong. Nothing can be further from the truth. Instead of avoiding the topic of school, we should mentally prepare them for their new experience by talking about it. We do not want them to be taken aback, we want them to be prepared.
So, talk about school often. Mention the school’s name and talk about their teachers. Talk about other schoolchildren – will there be your kid’s friends? The more you talk about school, the more your child will become accustomed to the idea. Talking about school is a great way to deal with anxiety in kids.
Also, encourage your child to speak about school too. Let them know that you are interested in hearing what they have to say one way of helping kids with anxiety.
Helping children practice learning skills that are necessary for school life is also a way of helping kids with anxiety. Encourage your child to practice putting on their school uniform as well as doing up zippers and buttons. Also, help your child develop useful habits such as clearing the table and hanging their coat themselves.
Another way of helping kids with anxiety is to start slowly adjusting their schedule to school life. For example, if your child will have to start school early, then start getting up earlier. Also, driving or walking past your school building or spending some time in the neighborhood can also be of help as it will help your child become more familiar with the area.
Avoid Raising Your Child’s Expectations and Be Honest
While talking about school is important, it is also important to not overdo it. This is also important in helping kids with anxiety. Some parents may say: “School is just so much fun, you are never going to want to come back home.” Phrases like these may set your children’s expectations too high and they may be very quickly disappointed by their experience.
Of course, you should tell your children what they should expect but you should do that carefully without exaggerating. Do not overhype it!
Do not stretch the truth either. For example, to make them feel comfortable, a parent may want to tell their child “There is no need to worry about school. If you don’t want to go to school, you don’t have to.” Obviously, when it is the time to start school, the child will quickly learn that this is not true and will simply stop trusting you. Being honest is paramount in helping kids with anxiety.
Managing Your Own Anxiety About Your Child Starting School
If you are too visibly stressed and anxious about your child starting school, you may be making your child stressed and anxious as well. Of course, there is nothing wrong with your being stressed either. But if you, an adult, are anxious about your child facing their first day at school, imagine how they will feel! Yes, anxious!
Preparation in a kid’s first days at school is another way of helping kids with anxiety. So, on the day of starting school, there are some things that you can do in this regard. First, do not prolong the moment of separation. Retain your composure when seeing your child off to school even though it may be tough. Certainly, when your child throws a tantrum on their first day of school and pleads with you of allowing them to stay at home, it is extremely difficult for parents to avoid feelings of nervousness and frustration.
After leaving your child in the class with students and the teacher, try to avoid the temptation to go back and check on them. If your child has a mobile phone, avoid calling them multiple times while they are at school. Giving children room to be more independent is a great way of helping kids with anxiety.
Be cautious with what you say and what you do. Children can see and understand more than you can imagine so be mindful of your body language, your tone of voice, and overall behavior. Understanding this point will make one more effective in how to deal with children.
If for example, your own school experience was not good, avoid phrases like “I hated school” or “I was a bad student.” These statements will only negatively affect your child. Monitoring your own behavior in front of your child is another way of helping kids with anxiety.
Fortunately, as an adult, you can address your anxiety. Find some breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, and meditation that can help you alleviate the range of overwhelming emotions. You can also find and read self-books devoted specifically to the topic of coping with your children’s first school day. Addressing our own anxiety help pave the way for effectively dealing with anxiety in kids.
Avoid Overloading Your Kids With Activities
Remember that we should not underestimate the emotional and physical strain that the first day of school may put on our kids. Give your child some time to adapt to school and make their life as simple as possible. At least for the first couple of weeks after their start school. Supporting your child in this way is a way of helping kids with anxiety.
Avoid overloading your child with extracurricular activities and carefully monitor their energy levels and how they are adapting to the new routine. Help them keep a healthy diet, and make sure they are not hungry as this only can make their anxiety worse. Taking the steps to manage your child’s schedule and energy levels throughout the day is another effective way of helping kids with anxiety.
Treating Anxiety in Children
And the last, but not the least important tip. All the tips listed above may not work if your child suffers from a genuine anxiety disorder. If this is the case, then your strategy should be entirely different.
Anxiety is more than just feeling worried. When children are extremely anxious, they may manifest extreme fears about starting school, they can be very worried about the future. They are also likely to suffer from so-called panic attacks accompanied by physical symptoms. These symptoms include headaches, muscle tension, and stomach aches which indicate the need for treating anxiety in children.
In this case, your child will need the professional help of a psychologist or other mental health professional. Treating anxiety in children includes services provided by a mental health professional and/or a psychologist. A medical professional can help determine whether your child needs medication or if psychotherapy will suffice. In the case of the latter, your doctor will help you develop a so-called mental health plan which may include either behavioral therapy or so-called cognitive behavior therapy.
Treating anxiety in children also includes CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), an efficient type of psychotherapy that helps the patient change negative thoughts into positive ones while managing their anxiety symptoms. Your child will also learn how to tell realistic thoughts from unrealistic ones. The duration of this type of therapy is usually twelve weeks – one session per week.
Treating anxiety in children may also include using medication together with therapy. Depending on whether your child’s anxiety is severe or mild, treatment with medication can be short-term or long-term. Some medications have side effects which are why medication therapy should how only under the watchful eye of a qualified medical professional. Remember, there is nothing wrong with turning to professional help when dealing with the issues of mental health.
If you find that your child is nervous about starting school, there are a number of strategies to help kids with anxiety. These strategies are helpful in dealing with anxiety in kids. However, if your child is extremely anxious, professional help can also help children overcome their anxiety in starting school.
Russ Gadzhiev obtained his Ph.D. in history and politics from the University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management, and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish, and Portuguese.