Stress is to be expected come September. A new class, teacher and potential friends are all causes for emotional turmoil. Too much stress can inhibit your child’s ability to respond, even if they’re totally ready to tackle the demands of a new school year. Not sure if you should step in? Here’s how to know if your child is experiencing a disruptive amount of stress.
Childhood anxiety often falls into three categories: separation anxiety (a fear that something bad is going to happen to a family member or to themselves), social phobia (being uneasy about the social aspects of school) and generalized anxiety disorder (worrying excessively about the future). When it’s time to start a new school year, all three of these can come into play. Be extra perceptive around this time of year, when tension builds as summer comes to a close.
Help your child identify their feelings, and equip them with the tools to talk about them constructively. Be perceptive to the times they express their feelings (verbally or behaviourally), and provide opportunities for communicating about them. Teach them to come up with certain phrases to express their anxiety so you can both understand what’s going on when a tantrum strikes. Rather than ask your child why they’re acting this way, ask them how you can help them with the problem.
Worrying that a chance situation happening during school hours will have lasting effects (something happening to a family member while the family is apart, for example) can circulate in your child’s’ head like a broken record. Help them process those thoughts. Ask them “what,” “when” and “where” questions. For example, “Is there something wrong with the bus? What is it?” Help them get to the bottom of their fear and to understand the real cause. Assure them that if something goes wrong, you’ll work through it together.
Complaining of sickness
When your child expresses that they’re not feeling well, whether physically or emotionally, listen to and respect their feelings. For kids who feel isolated by their worry (and often separation anxiety can make a child feel isolated before they’re even at school), being listened to can have a healing effect. If your child is really sick enough to stay home, make it a no-screen, no-TV, no-games day, and fend off the desire to make it a habit. Encourage and recognize brave behaviour. Exposure to a scary situation decreases the fear over time.
Having nightmares and being reluctant to go to sleep means a child’s mind is working overtime. Anything that makes a child more emotionally active during waking hours can make nighttime fears more intense. Don’t dismiss their fears. Come up with an imaginary weapon of choice for combatting bogeymen in the dark. For example, keep a “monster spray” under the bed. Get your child involved in the solution to give them a sense of mastery over the situation. Don’t encourage your child to get out of bed in the night. Have a “tuck-in” routine you stick to every night. This is especially important for starting a new school routine. Similarly, develop a goodbye ritual before school to signify that it’s time to start the day.