For most kids, this month marks the beginning of a new school year. With that new
beginning usually comes a mixture of feelings-excitement, happiness, sadness that summer is over, maybe some dread of the work to come, and often some anxiety about what the new school year will bring. For most kids, that anxiety is not much more that a few butterflies about who their teacher will be and which of their friends will be in their class. For others, it is much more difficult and they are overwhelmed with fears that leave them panicked, tearful, unable to sleep or eat normally, and sometimes physically ill. These are kids that often deal with high levels of anxiety in new situations, in general, and a new school year brings their fears to the surface. For parents, this can be especially difficult to handle. We try to convince our kids that they are safe. That we will not forget to pick them up after school. That their teacher is not going to yell at them. That she will not call on them the first day of school if they don’t raise their hand. To an anxious child, these are just some of their very real fears. It is challenging for parents not to get frustrated, especially if the anxiety lasts for more than a few days. Here are a few ideas that may help:
- Children who are experiencing challenges in other parts of their lives, are more likely to feel increased anxiety with this transition. This may include difficulties in the family such as marital problems, divorce, parental unemployment, health problems. It may also include their own learning challenges such as a learning disability or ADHD.
- If children want to talk about what they are worried about, listen to them completely, and then put some boundaries around how much you allow them to talk about it.
- The more they focus on the fear, the bigger it gets. So allow them to express it, discuss the facts around the fear and then put it aside for later.
- Distraction is a good thing!
- Don’t coddle the anxious child too much. I know it is counter-intuitive, but too much coddling also makes the anxiety grow. When a child is anxious, they need the adults around them to be confident and to send them the message that all is well. If you are coddling too much you may be sending the message to the child that you agree that he has something to to be worried about! In my 27 years as a family therapist, I have found that this is often, but not always, more challenging for us mothers than for most fathers. If that is true in your family, then have Dad take the child to school until the anxiety lessens.
If the anxiety continues more than a couple of weeks, consider contacting a counselor for more help. Often a few sessions can be very helpful in teaching children and parents techniques to better handle anxiety