September Skills: How do I help my child with school related anxiety ?
September is in full swing and for most of the US, this means summer is winding down and a new school year is about to begin. For a lot of children, a new school year can mean an increase in stress and anxiety about returning to school. The amount of children who are not attending school daily due to school related anxiety has seen a dramatic increase in the last five years. A lot of parents find themselves waking up early to be met with consistent turmoil in their homes trying to get their children into school successfully.
Oftentimes arguments, stress and defiance increase in the home when children refuse to attend school. As a parent you may be asking yourself “How do I help my child with school related anxiety?” The answer is not a simple one as many families struggle to get their children in school as well as to remain at school. Here are some tips I offer to families I work with as a child therapist:
1.Routine, Routine, Routine
As much as your child may project they hate routine when it comes to bed time or getting up in the morning, it’s a proven fact time and time again that children benefit from a consistent routine. A routine that involves a bed time, a schedule and as much consistency as possible. Children who have anxiety thrive off of consistency because they know what they can expect, therefore lowering their overall worries. A routine also ensures an adequate amount of rest, down time and re-charging for their growing minds which promotes healthy choices and self-care from a young age.
2. Limit Setting
Setting limits is crucial to your child’s success now and in their future. Every time an adult sets a limit with a child they’re learning expectations and what tasks are non-negotiable like attending school. A lot of parents report struggling with setting limits with their children for a variety of reasons and its important to remember that setting limits is just another way your child learns what’s expected of them, there’s no gray area left for them to question how they can avoid a certain task in order to not experience an undesired emotion, in this case, the feeling of being anxious. Setting limits at times can feel like punishment and cause a rise in tantrums, defiant behaviors and arguing. It’s important to remember that setting limits can be difficult and the repercussions of not setting limits is far greater each time we give into our children’s anxiety.
3. Know The Right Tools
Every child is different when it comes to working through their anxiety effectively. It’s important as a parent to know the tools that are helpful for your child and encourage them to use them in times of high stress. A lot of children benefit from having their own ‘coping skills toolbox’ that they can draw from anytime they feel their anxiety creeping up.
Their tool box may contain things like play doh, a stress ball, scented lotion, a pen & paper for doodling, a stuffed animal or anything else they find comforting. It’s helpful to identify different tools to draw from so children learn to access different skills for different situations and not to become too reliant on one skill they may not always have access to.
When it comes to anxiety, a lot of times it’s important to give that individual options to increase their feeling of control. Anxiety makes us feel like we have no control over our mind, bodies and current situations. Offering options lets the control be put back into the child’s hands. As a child therapist, I often give the children I am working with options to complete the task they may be refusing. For the example of getting into school, I often talk with children about attending a modified schedule or meeting with a school counselor upon their arrival. The task remains the same, which is to get into school while still offering them support and the chance to work through the anxious thoughts.
September can be a trying time for many families who may have a child who is struggling with school related anxiety, it’s important to remember you’re not alone and there are tools as well as professionals out there to help when your family may need it.