By: Sarah Sanburn, LPC
School has just started, first day jitters are over and students are beginning to learn
the classroom expectations.... now what? Whether your child has anxiety that pops
up periodically or they have an anxiety disorder; it is important to understand the
best ways to support your child with their worries.
Transitioning back to the start of school can feel overwhelming for parents and
children alike. As parents, we are often loaded with back-to-school activities, the
start of after school programs, managing the changing schedule and of course, if
you’re anything like me, the never-ending laundry and dishes that children seem to
forever be creating. With pumpkin spice latte’s still not on the menu and the chilly
mornings not something we can look forward to, it is normal that this time of year
would be stressful for anyone. It’s important to be mindful about children’s
schedules having a healthy balance with school, activities and rest.
Here are some guidelines to support your child as they begin the school year...
The start of school can bring nerves to even the calmest of children. It’s normal to
have the back-to-school butterflies in the stomach feeling, as I’m sure we’ve all
experienced when starting a new job. To check in with your child on their feelings,
ask open ended questions instead of leading questions. Instead of, “Are you feeling
anxious?”. Try asking in an open-ended way, “How are you feeling today?” or “What
do you think about your new class?”. Then, and this is the most important part,
listen. I have often been asked what I say to my child to get her to talk to me, and
the thing that has made the biggest impact is not exactly what I said but that I
listened. Kids can sense when you’re really invested and hearing them or if you’re
running through the to do list in your head. Before bed is a great time to have these
conversations, and leads to great bonding time.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Limit after-school activities and provide unstructured play time. It’s easy to feel like
your child is missing out when you are surrounded by social media posts with
parents showing off their child’s new activities. Here is a hard truth-there will always
be something your child is missing out on. However, by saying “No” to another
extra-curricular activity you are also saying “YES!” to unstructured play time. This
type of play, play that is not organized by adults and typically does not have an
intended outcome, is essential for children to thrive emotionally and socially.
Model Behaviors You Are Looking For
What we say is important, however what our children see us do on a daily basis is
more important. If your go to stress technique is to acknowledge the feeling and
take a deep breath before responding then they will follow in your footsteps. When
you model this anxiety reducing technique, they internalize the understanding that
anxious feelings are ok to come up and to let go. Normalizing expressing emotions
in this way is going to set your kiddo up for success as they grow and develop in
communicating their needs.
If your child’s anxiety seems to linger longer than expected, checking into
resources could be helpful. It’s important to know and understand your resources at
your children’s school and in the community. Missouri state law encourages schools
to have an established resource for mental health. Most schools in the area have at
least one school counselor, crisis counselor or have established a resource from an
outside organization to provide mental health support for students. You can call
your child’s school and inquire about the resources available. Most school
counselors also have a list of recommended therapists in the area.
I wish you luck in the school year ahead, hopefully you can also make time to
prioritize yourself. Here’s to a great school year!
JENNIFER EULBERG, MA, LPC
Welcome Jennifer, our new blogger!
Jennifer is a counselor at Sandhill who specializes in depression, self-esteem, and grief & loss. Get to know Jennifer as she shares her perspectives on life, contemplates value themes, and offers gentle encouragement.
THANK YOU to Stefanie Pisarkiewicz, LPC for her blog contributions from November 2014 - February 2019!