I remember those days when as a parent, I was so excited for my children to return to school and ease into their ‘normal’ routines. I didn’t think to take a step back and think about how they were feeling about leaving summer behind and getting back into an expected routine. As I am reflecting on those days, weeks, months, and years, I feel guilty that I didn’t check in with them to see what was going on in their minds and hearts. I followed the social and cultural norm that it was an exciting time for parents to get their kids ready for school. I was that parent who was thrilled to fill out the school’s emergency cards, shop for back-to-school supplies and clothing, purchase cute lunch pails, and prepare their lunches. This meant that I was going to be able to have some time to myself and ‘get things done’. It was all about ME and not THEM! As I am writing this blog, I feel a sense of guilt and shame at how I handled sending my kids off to school.
This blog is not intended to make you feel guilty, it’s a resource you can refer to on ways to help your child manage their anxious thoughts and feelings about easing back into school and routines. To put it in perspective, think about what may have been going through your mind as summer vacation was ending. You may have felt several emotions…excited, thrilled, nervous, and scared. As a child, I remember clearly that I felt all those emotions. However, my parents only focused on getting back into routine. I learned that behavior and mirrored it as a parent to my children. Yes, there are many regrets of what I should have done better, however focusing on those is not helpful. Helping others learn from my errors and having a toolbox to work with are beneficial.
Preparation: As the school date approaches, sit with your children and check-in with them to explore their feelings surrounding the beginning of another new school year and summer ending.
Validation: Whatever feelings your child(ren) express, ensure that you validate their emotions. Normalize their feelings and respect their position.
Relate: Share a similar emotion that you may be experiencing to help your child understand that it’s okay to have a mixture of emotions that may even be confusing.
Role Play: This is the fun part that you get to do with your child(ren) is to get into character. Take this opportunity to address your child’s apprehension or concerns and teach them how to handle various scenarios that may be ruminating in their minds.
Coping Techniques: Most children, if not all, may experience a level of anxiety and fear as they begin thinking about going back to school, meeting new friends and teachers, wondering about the level of difficulty of their new schoolwork, etc. First, address these concerns with your children and help them understand that it’s okay to experience fear. Provide them with some coping strategies that they can use when they feel nervous.
· Breathing Techniques: 4-7-8 approach of calming nervous system by taking a deep breath in counting 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and release externally through the mouth counting for 8 seconds.
· Visual Imagery: In your mind’s eye, picture yourself in a calming environment (happy place) and focus on the things that you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. This approach will help your children take themselves away from a stressful situation and obtain calmness through picturing a safe place.
Once your children become more settled into their school and other routines including sports, music, theater, church activities, etc. periodic check-ins from you would help your child(ren) feel connected, valued, important, and loved. This will also be a way for you to gain knowledge and understanding of your child’s inner circle and enter their world.
An integral part of helping your child(ren) cope with their anxiety as they are easing into going back to school and routines is become their advocate or ally. Let your child know that you are on their side and that you will stand up for them. Show up for them when they are in crisis and let them know that you love them unconditionally. You’ve got this parents – believe in yourself and know that you have significant power of making sure that your child(ren) feels loved, valued, appreciated, respected, and most of all ENOUGH!
Please keep in mind that no matter what you do or say to your child, there will be difficult situations that can produce anxious thoughts and feelings. Reach out if your child needs additional support from a mental health professional that can provide anxiety therapy to help with decreasing or changing those thought cycles. Our therapists are ready to work with you child(ren), please contact our office at 714-617-5955 or book an consultation call on-line at www.nurturingconnectionscounseling.com.