Posted tagged ‘back to school’

Back To School Anxiety

August 17, 2010

Summer was CRAZY busy… its good to be back.  Didja miss me?  😉

August is winding down, and school is about to start.  Although most kids will miss summer, on some level they’re also looking forward to going back to school:  catching up with their friends, making new ones, doing activities like sports or band, etc.

But for some children, the thought of a new school semester triggers a gnawing sensation in the pit of their belly. Every kid has the pressure of “doing well” and “fitting in”… and depending on their temperament, any change in routine can be stressful. As a parent, you need to be able to discern between normal separation anxiety and  special circumstances.

If your son or daughter was bullied last year, they likely dealt with: Name calling. Physical intimidation. Vicious gossip. Social exclusion.  Anyone would dig in their heels at the prospect of facing that!

Some ways kids manifest this anxiety include complaining of headaches or stomach aches, being abnormally cranky, depression, outright refusal to attend, and full on explosive tantrums and emotional meltdowns. Without proper intervention, children who manifest high anxiety as early as kindergarten continue to suffer for years! (Duchesne, S., Vitaro, F., Larose, S., & Tremblay, R. E. (2008). Trajectories of anxiety during elementary-school years. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37, 1134-1146.)

What To Do

  • Find the Right Setting To Talk.  You wont get a meaningful conversation in the middle of their favorite TV show, in front of siblings, or in a crowd.
  • Reveal the Actual Problem.  Physical symptoms and emotional outbursts are the symptoms-you must discover the cause.  Some parents prefer to ‘cut through the bull-sh*t’ with direct questions, others slowly uncover the truth, like peeling layers away from an onion.  Avoid giving cues about what you expect to hear.
  • Listen.  While its okay to prompt your child to stay on track, do NOT interrupt, jump in with advice, or dismiss their concerns.
  • Ask Questions.  You need to know the extent of the problem. (What, exactly, are you afraid of? Who’s involved, who’s been a witness? Where did the problems happen- face to face or online? Why do you think this is happening- if I asked the other kid(s), what reason do you think they’d give? How have you handled it in the past?).  Remember- this is a conversation, not an interrogation.
  • Validate.  “That must be very difficult for you” “Of course you’re upset, anyone would be” “Now I understand”
  • Make Sure Your Child Isn’t Playing “Pass It Down”.  There’s always someone lower on the pecking order (another kid, a younger sibling, or family pet) –  its a natural human tendency to vent frustration and rage by passing it down the line.  Be clear that this is totally unacceptable.
  • Keep Yourself In Check.  Stay cool and be empathetic (sensitive and appreciative of another’s situation/feelings), not sympathetic (taking another’s sorrows and burdens as your own).
  • Take Some Time to Reflect. Following your first instinct might not be the best thing to do.
  • Plan A Course of Action.
  • Teach Your Child Self-Control.  This takes practice, but the pay-off is amazing. Staying calm under pressure is a vital life skill.
  • Role-Play.  Go over some likely scenarios and rehearse some very simple responses until your kid can execute them smoothly.
  • Notify School Officials of your concerns.  And send a followup letter or email. There are gazillions of laws and policies that educators need to comply with.  It might help. It might not.  But its worth the effort, if only do document the communication.
  • Teach Your Child Self-Defense.  I  realize this is heresy,  but I’m not a big fan of “tiny tot tiger karate” programs.  A TKD kata will not make one iota of difference if a bully grabs your kid by the hair and slams their face into a wall.  The best self-defense for children consists of basic techniques, drilled over and over, with spirit.

Now the hard part.  Once you’ve prepared you child, take a step back, and let them handle it. (Research clearly shows that kids with over-protective parents are targeted more than their peers.)

I bid you peace, health, love and joy in abundance. ~Adam

*As always, if you have any questions, please leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you.