“You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” – Winnie the Pooh
For most children back to school means many changes – new teachers, some are moving to new schools, new classroom, new schedules and new friends. I realize that we are well into our second month of school but these changes can trigger stress, anxiety and fear. Some signs are restless nights, loss of appetite, stomach-aches, clingy behavior and tantrums. These could be signs that your child is experiencing anxiousness about being back at school.
If your child seems distressed, there are things that parents can do to ease some of their child’s anxiety. Acknowledging the fear is the first step. Find a time when you can talk about their fears. Start by brainstorming with your child about how you can make it easier for them. Packing special snacks or positive notes, meeting up with friends before school starts, or talking about the fun things they can look forward to during school. “Normalize” their situation by letting them know they are not the only ones feeling this way. You could also point out that teachers and adults feel this way about going to a new job or getting to know new students. Be part of their school and their experiences there by joining PAC, helping with field trips or in the classroom when needed.
Make a list of your child’s fears and try to come up with strategies on how to cope with them. Do not dismiss their feelings. Let them know its okay to feel that way and encourage them to share their emotions and thoughts. Make sure you listen to them. I know when I have a problem it is comforting to talk to someone. Remind them that you love them and that you will always have their back.
Take time to do something special like reading to them or playing a game together. Mark on the calendar upcoming fun events or make any day fun. I used to celebrate everything like passing a test, learning something new or simply its Tuesday – let’s make a favourite meal or rent the latest new children’s movie!
Sticking to a routine is also important. Plan extra time to get out the door each day. Get everything in order the night before. Give your child choices on what to wear and what to eat for breakfast. Getting proper rest and waking up at the same time each day is vital. Keep your child healthy by eating proper meals at the same time each day. Get outside and get exercise and fresh air.
This brings me to another topic – overscheduling. Sports teams, music lessons, playdates and extracurricular activities can lead to exhaustion, anxiety and stress. Just like adults, kids need downtime after school and on weekends. Children need alone time to decompress. Give them time to just play and rest.
Other factors could contribute to anxiety – a new sibling, a move, divorce or loss of a family member or pet. Do not be afraid to ask for help from a pediatrician, counselor or therapist. They can be a great resource and help. Reach out to other parents for resources – do not compare – work together! You set a tone for how stress and anxiety in children and adults is handled in your own home. Be calm. With the world and news today, it is impossible to block your child from these events but it is important to be the best example of how to handle stress. Turn off the TV, play soothing happy music, keep things calm and peaceful at home. Most importantly love them! I reminded my kids so long ago whenever we were apart they were always in my heart and in my thoughts. That has never changed.
“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.” – A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh