School Anxiety – its back! 6 Top Tips to support you and your child

Aug 31, 2020

The back-to-school feeling is noticeably different this year for both parents and children. After months of social isolation, home schooling and uncertainty, school will reopen in England next week. Although the situation is being continually reviewed, it is vital for our children’s education and wellbeing to get back to some sense of ‘normality’. Yet, the anxiety can be crippling for both children and parents.

Back-to-school anxiety is normal

We have been in lockdown since March, routines have changed and the new normal was becoming quite comfortable. Adjusting again to a ‘new, new normal’ can be distressing and it is very normal to be apprehensive about schools opening their doors after having our children at home for so long. Children may be feeling overly excited but equally nervous. Likewise, as parents, fears around Covid-19 transmission, academic progress, and social development, may be increasing our anxiety in the coming week.

What can you do to support your child?

1. Encourage your child to talk when they are not in a state of anxiety

When you child is ‘freaking out’ or telling you their tummy hurts or they have a headache, there is a high probability that anxiety has set in and this is their way (unknowingly) to tell you.

We are all born with a ‘fight or flight’ response to fear. When we are afraid or stressed, the part of our brain in control of the fight or flight response will cause the nervous, fearful feeling we call anxiety.

A bit of biology…

In response to this, the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated by the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous system then stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of many chemicals including adrenaline. This chain of reactions results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. It can take between 20 to 60 minutes for the body to return to its pre-arousal levels.

Find out if there is something causing their worry…
  • Leaving the comfort of their family and home
  • The academic work
  • Friendships / bullies
  • New teachers
  • ️ Overwhelmed by all of it
  • No idea!

However, if your child’s body and mind have started the chain of reactions that I mentioned above, it will be difficult for them to make rational sense of their emotions and talk about them.

This may lead to…

  • Your stress rising
  • Arguments as they ‘just won’t tell you what’s wrong!!’ (FYI in this state they can’t)
  • Increase anxiety for you about how on earth are we going to get through the rest of the week!

When your child is calm, when you’re watching TV, or walking the dog gently ask them about how they feel about school, teachers, friends, lunchtime etc.
If they want to tell you, trust they will. They may shut down. This is ok to. The importance is letting them know you are there to hear them.

When they are calm, the mind and body can rationalise anxiety, when its already hit, listen, stay calm and don’t get upset with them.

2. Encourage your child to write their feelings/thoughts/emotions down

By communicating how they feel can help reduce the chemical reactions going on in the body and mind as it is a form of grounding (bringing yourself back into the moment).
Writing, singing, texting, drawing…

Encouraging your child to write freely can be extremely powerful. It doesn’t need to be legible, doesn’t need to be neat, doesn’t need to be read again. The importance is that it is out of their mind.

If they choose to show you, it is vital that you do not belittle what they are feeling. What may be trivial to us may mean the world to them. Do not criticise how messy the writing is or show your worry at what they have written. This can have damaging effects on their trust in being able to tell you how they feel.

Read it, thank them, and invite them to explain so you can understand better how they feel.

3. Don’t say “You won’t be the only one feeling this way” or “You’ll all be in the same boat”

We may feel this is helpful, but what we are doing is not validating their feelings.
If you child says, “I’m really worried about my new teacher, I might not like her”, you replied “don’t worry I’m sure everyone else is feeling the same”
Not only do you dismiss what they are feeling, you also shut the conversation down.
A more productive response could be “what is it you think you wont like?” this opens the conversation allowing your child to explore their fears.

4. Do not to pass over your own anxieties

You are an adult; they cannot hold your anxieties as well!

If you are worried about Covid-19 transmission, become as informed as possible, read the schools risk assessment, read up on the schools reopening Government guidelines here to calm your nerves and reassert that this is the right decision, informed by professional thinking.

Your anxieties will differ to your child’s. Allow them to explore their worries with you. Hold them and then off load on a friend, partner, family member. Your child needs to feel supported by an adult who can ‘take’ their emotional stuff for them.

  • Create a social support network with other parents
  • Educate yourself on the symptoms of anxiety.
  • Keep abreast of the Governments advice

5. Encourage Grounding – move the energy

When your child is in a state of anxiety, their emotions are whirling around their mind and their body is reacting by increasing the heart rate and blood pressure.

Encourage physical movement.

Get the energy moving out of their mind and down through the body.

Essential oils, yoga and mindfulness are wonderful, but not right now.
The idea is to move the energy in the body to the feet into the ground (imagine a time where your anxiety was high maybe your body was twitchy, sweaty, uneasy)

For children, a great way to move the energy could be.
  • Jumping
  • Shouting
  • Punching a pillow
  • Running
  • Shake their body as hard as they can

Encouraging your child to come back into the moment, back into their body, to gain control again, burn the adrenaline off. Can bring about a sense of calm.

6. Allow the tantrums, mood swings, dinner refusal, sleepless nights…. breathe and let it go

Your child needs to feel that you are in control and have their back. You are their rock right now. By reacting to their behaviour in a negative way may lead to more arguments and ironically more anxiety.

You are the adult, you can find other ways to vent your frustration but now you child needs you. This may mean you become their emotional punchbag (obviously, this is within reason and at your discretion!). Understand that the behaviours you are seeing are likely to be a result of the anxiety. Take a moment and let it pass.

If you would like to talk through any of the above on a 1:1 basis please contact me (offers available)

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