‘Worry Time’ and Other Techniques for Managing Back-to-School Stress
BY DYAN ROBSON, And Next Comes L
Photo © SBphoto/Twenty20
Sep 5, 2019
My son's anxiety started to appear in second grade and it was one of the most difficult years he has ever endured. Most days, it was impossible to get him in the car, let alone into the school. He had massive school anxiety and I'll admit it, I was lost on how to help him through it.
It's been a few years now and we have learned quite a few strategies to help him cope with his anxiety.
However, every year when it's time to head back to school, the memories of that difficult school year come creeping back in. We start to see some resistance and complaints.
A Useful Article About Kids And Back-To-School: How To Make Back-To-School Tranistions Less Traumatic For The Entire Family
So how do you help kids bounce back after a difficult school year, especially when they're an anxious or worried child to begin with?
For us, we focus on connection, validation and teaching coping strategies so he feels empowered. Like he can handle whatever gets thrown his way during the back-to-school rush.
Obviously, it's important to make sure your child is getting enough sleep first. A lack of sleep will only make their anxiety worse. So, make sure they're getting enough rest. The same goes for exercise and food. One thing we like to do is bike to and from school. That extra bit of exercise is a powerful distraction technique to reduce a child's anxieties and stress. Once you've taken care of these basics, you can then focus on the other things I mentioned above.
In terms of connection, what I mean is that you are setting aside time to actually check in with your child to see what is truly bothering them.
One strategy our psychologist taught us is to designate a scheduled worry time. It is a great strategy for connecting with your anxious child. Basically, you set aside 15-30 minutes per day to discuss the worries your child had that day. They're allowed to talk about all those worries during that time as much as they need. You simply just listen and let them do the talking. Your child will hopefully open up and tell you about their school worries.
Don't forget to genuinely praise your child's efforts for overcoming or managing any anxiety during the day.
During worry time, it's important to remember to put your personal feelings aside and focus on your child. Yes, that includes watching what you say about school and about teachers, as hard as this may be.
Instead, focus on validating your child's worries. Hear their concerns and let them know you heard what they had to say. Remind them that school can be hard, but that there's also lots of fun and interesting things about school, too. For instance, point out something cool they've done at school or highlight a new experience they had because of going to school. Showing those positives can be helpful. The bottom line is be supportive.
And then don't forget to genuinely praise your child's efforts for overcoming or managing any anxiety during the day.
While discussing and validating worries are both fantastic strategies for helping your child bounce back after a difficult school year, one of the best things you can do is teach your child coping strategies. Strategies that they can actually use when those worrying thoughts come up in the first place. Because they're definitely going to come up throughout the school day.
More From Our Friends At The Psychology Foundation Of Canada: Strategies For Parenting Kids Who Anxiety
- taking deep breaths
- playing with a hand fidget
- chewing gum or using a chew necklace
- using logic to outsmart the worry
- asking for a body break
- telling their worrying thoughts to go away
- setting up quiet time after school to decompress
I know it seems like it might be impossible for your anxious child to have a good year at school after a particularly rough one, but it is totally possible. Just know that my son has had two incredible school years since then. And you can hopefully get to that point, too.
Just remember to connect, validate, and teach your child coping strategies and you'll be one step closer to helping your child manage their back to school anxiety.