Your Health: 4 tools to support your child who has back-to-school anxiety
August 31, 2016
The first day of school is Thursday, Sept. 1. New adventures await. With the return of school, mixed feelings are common. A majority of students will be experiencing change of one sort or another. Changing schools, changing teachers, meeting new classmates, starting school earlier, new classroom routines, the list goes on.
As children embark on these changes, their feelings can range from fear to excitement and everything in between. Many will feel some level of apprehension about beginning something new, and it's useful to acknowledge and normalize it for them.
Reflecting what you notice to your child will help them better understand themselves and how they are handling transition at this moment. Using the present tense when describing what you see will allow your child the freedom to change the way they perceive the experience.
For example, I might say to my son, "you seem worried about who you are going to hang out with this year." Instead of, "I notice that you always worry about who your friends are going to be when you start school."
By explaining what you notice, they have an opportunity to put it into a context where they can see it's a temporary experience.
Finally, here are some empowering and creative strategies to support your student as they re-enter the school year:
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1. Reflect back on summer: Give your child time to remember all the adventures they had, ask them what they enjoyed the most, and share some of your favorite moments.
2. Project Forward: What are they thinking or feeling about the upcoming school year? What are they looking forward to? What are they feeling nervous about? What are their goals for the school year? How do they think they are different from the previous year and what will those differences mean in the upcoming school year?
3. Create a Vision Board: Use pictures and words from magazines and create a Vision Board where they can paste magazine cuttings or draw pictures, write quotes, decorate in a way that will support the vision they want to create. These tools offer a creative outlet and help kids (and adults) feel empowered as they move forward. For those more technically inclined, there is a FREE app called Hay House Vision Board where it can be done digitally.
4. Listen: Finally, there is no way to underestimate the value of having someone who will just listen to what they might be feeling without needing to fix, change or judge it. No need to add your opinion. Allow your child to express himself and feel heard. It will bring rewards to both of you down the road.
New beginnings and changes impact everyone differently. Creating space for those differences and honoring them allows your child to be present in the moment and tolerate uncomfortable feelings. As they learn to do this, they grow in their ability to hurdle further challenges in their lives.
Alaina Reichwald is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and counselor at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School (SELS).
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