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  1. #1
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    Back to School Anxiety

    Back to school anxiety
    by Julia Martin Burch, PhD, Harvard Health
    August 23, 2018

    Heading back to school sparks an upswing in anxiety for many children. The average childís school day is packed with potential stressors: separating from parents, meeting academic expectations, managing peer groups, and navigating loud, crowded school hallways and cafeteria, to name just a few of many challenges. Thatís why itís typical for children to experience some anticipatory anxiety leading up to the new school year ó and for parents to notice a rise in worries. For example, your child might ask questions about what her new classroom or teacher will be like, worry about having all of his school supplies ready, or have mild trouble falling asleep in the days leading up to the start of school.

    Signs of back to school anxiety
    But for some children ó and particularly for children who already struggle with anxiety or have anxiety disorders ó the return to school can be very stressful. Their behavior can reflect this. Examples of behaviors that suggest your child is experiencing above-average anxiety around the return to school include:

    • Continually seeking reassurance or asking repeated, worried questions despite already receiving an answer. ďWhat if my friends are not in my class? When will I see them? What if I donít have anyone to sit with at lunch because I have no friends? Will I be okay?Ē
    • Increased physical complaints, such as headaches, stomachaches, and fatigue in the absence of an actual illness.
    • A significant change in sleep pattern, such as taking an hour to fall asleep when a child normally goes to sleep quickly, or waking you up with worries during the night when a child typically sleeps well.
    • Avoiding school-related activities, such as school tours, teacher meet-and-greets, or avoiding school itself once the year starts (a topic that will be covered in an upcoming post).

    Here is how parents can help with back to school anxiety

    • Approach anxiety instead of avoiding it. Itís natural to want to allow your child to avoid situations that make her anxious, or reassure her that her worries wonít come true. However, this can actually contribute to a vicious cycle that reinforces anxiety in the long term. Instead, acknowledge your childís emotion and then help her think through small steps she might take to approach, rather than avoid, her worries. For example, you might say, ďIt sounds like youíre feeling anxious about riding the school bus by yourself. Would you be up for checking out the bus stop with me this afternoon?Ē Give lots of attention and praise to any ďbraveĒ behaviors rather than to her anxiety. ďI love how willing you were to take the bus this morning! Great job pushing back on the worry bully!Ē
    • Practice school routines. For example, before the start of the year, you and your child might do a school day walk-through of the morning routine: waking up, eating breakfast, packing his school bag, and traveling to school. School tours or meet-and-greet days can be great opportunities to practice navigating the school environment and tolerating any anxiety in a low-stakes situation. After practice runs, debrief with your child on successes and challenges. Support your child in problem-solving around difficult points. For example, if he worries that he will have trouble finding his new classrooms, help him think through who he could ask for assistance if that occurs.
    • Model behavior youíd like to see. When an anxious child refuses to get onto the school bus or has a tantrum about attending school, itís natural to feel frustrated, harried, and anxious yourself. However, try to model the calm behavior you would like to see in your child. Take deep breaths from your belly. Remind yourself that your childís behavior is being driven by anxiety. If necessary, step away from the situation to take a few minutes to breathe and engage in a mindfulness strategy, such as counting all of the objects of a certain color or shape in the room around you.
    • Ensure enough sleep. The shift from a summer wake-up schedule to the school year wake-up time can be very challenging for many children, particularly preteens. Fatigue and crankiness from not getting enough sleep can make children much more vulnerable to anxiety. To combat this, consider moving your childís wake-up time earlier and earlier in short increments in the weeks leading up to the start of school. Additionally, leave screens (TV, phone, computer) outside the bedroom at night.

  2. #2
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    Re: Back to School Anxiety

    And, of course, teachers are often anxious too:


    Teachers are actually tied with nurses, with 46 percent of both groups reporting high daily stress. Such reports are comparable with other notoriously demanding occupations, such as physicians and business managers. Itís not hard to understand the reasons why.

    The hidden threat of teacher stress
    Another reason mindfulness programs are helpful in schools (until schools are reformed and are no longer pressure cookers).

  3. #3
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