Childhood is a time where children are learning to navigate the world, while also learning to navigate some pretty big emotions. Unfortunately, sometimes these emotions get too big and become too overwhelming and our children need some support to learn manage these emotions on their own. One of the most common emotions that children struggle with is anxiety, which can be difficult for us a parents and care givers to identify and respond to due to the vast range of ways it can present in our kids.
Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety in children include:
- Physical symptoms
This can look like headaches, stomach aches, heavy feeling in chest, rapid breathing, tense muscles
- Excessive worry
This can look like worry that is out of proportion to the event or situation, worry that doesn’t seem to go away, worry that gets in the way of kids living their normal lives.
This can look like being overly avoidant of different people, places, and situations that other children may enjoy or feel comfortable doing.
- Anger and anger related behaviours
Often anxiety does not look like worry, but instead can look like anger and lead to children feeling irritable and easily frustrated. It can look like children having “explosions” of anger such as yelling, pushing, hitting, and throwing things.
Anxiety is a common issue among children and can have a significant impact on their ability to succeed in school. As a parent, it can be difficult to know how to help your child cope with anxiety and the return to school.
Here are a few tips for helping your child manage their anxiety and get back to learning.
1. Talk to your child about their feelings. Encourage your child to express their fears and concerns about returning to school. Listen actively and validate their feelings. Rather than dismissing these fears (“Nothing to be worried about! You’ll be fine!) listening to them and acknowledging your child’s feelings will help them feel more secure. Let them know that it is normal to feel anxious in new situations and that you are there to support them and demonstrate confidence that they can handle the situation.
2. Create a plan for addressing anxiety. Work with your child to develop a plan for coping with anxiety when it arises. This can include deep breathing exercises, visualization techniques, or other relaxation strategies. Talk to the teacher as much as possible in advance and make them aware of the situation.
3. Start a routine early before school starts and do some test runs. Help your child build confidence by helping them to give them time to get used to the new school or new classroom in advance. For example, if your child is anxious about returning to school, start by having them spend a short time at school, then gradually increase the amount of time they spend there. Make sure the days before they try to get into their school routine. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time as school before school starts
4. Creating a specific goodbye ritual prior to the first day of preschool can ease some of the anxiety about that final goodbye. Try one (or more) of these ideas:
• Develop a special handshake or special wave.
• Hug, kiss, high five and goodbye!
• Tuck a transitional object (i.e. a wishing stone, a small photo or a special charm) in your child’s backpack and fill it with love before you drop your child each day.
• Love notes in the lunch box remind kids that mom and dad love them and will return soon.
5. Encourage positive thinking. Encourage your child to adopt a positive mindset and focus on the good things about returning to school. Help them set realistic goals for themselves and praise them for their efforts. Watch your body language as you say goodbye. You might feel sad, but you want your child to feel safe and secure in this new fun environment. Stand up straight and smile for your little one to model a cheerful goodbye
6. If separation anxiety persists, seek professional help. If your child’s anxiety is severe or impacting their ability to function, it may be necessary to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide additional support and resources for helping your child manage their anxiety. The best place to start is by booking an appointment with you General Practitioner to explore symptoms and options for treatment.
It’s important to remember that anxiety is a normal part of life and that every child is unique. What works for one child may not work for another. With patience, understanding and a positive attitude, you can help your child cope with their anxiety.
If you would like some more information, please see the websites listed below: