Childhood Anxiety

Back to School Tips for Anxious Kids (and Parents)

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For kids (and parents) back to school time is often filled with anxiety. For those who suffer from an anxiety disorder this time of year can be especially stressful. Questions like, who will be in my class? Who will my teacher be? Will I like my new school? What if it is really hard? What if no one likes me? What if people are mean to me or make fun of me? The questions go on and on, and unfortunately there are no answers until school actually starts, and even then there are some unknowns.

This year, my son is starting kindergarten. And I am terrified. I am scared about all the questions above and so many more. So to help us all get ready for the start of the year, here are a few tips for a successful transition into a new school year.

 

Don’t make it the main focus.

While it’s natural for kids and parents to be excited, and for going back to school to be a huge topic of conversation, sometimes this can unintentionally backfire. When we make something a big deal, kids get scared that they are going to disappoint us or that they are supposed to be equally as excited (or as nervous) about it too. Instead, focus on normal activities and making the most of the rest of the summer. Of course if they bring it up follow their lead and have a conversation. Ask them how they are feeling using open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling about school starting?” Skip the questions like, “Aren’t you excited for school to start?” or “Are you nervous about this year?”

 

Transition their clock

Generally, school starts earlier than camp, which means everyone needs to get up earlier. Surprising kids by making them go to bed earlier and wake up earlier right before school starts, makes for cranky kids (and parents). A week before school starts, back their bedtime up about 10 minutes every 2 days until you reach an earlier bedtime. Keep in mind how much sleep your kid needs to be at their best (Learn more about how much sleep they need here).

I’ve got one kid who needs a little time in the morning before she gets her day started and another who is ready to go the minute he wakes up. I need to take into consideration how much time they need in the morning to determine what time they should go to bed. This transition might also mean an earlier dinnertime so take that into consideration when looking at your schedule. Kids (and adults) who have anxiety thrive on structured time. While this may seem like a lot of work it can save a lot of anxious energy down the road.

 

Get into the routine

Most parents know that kids don’t do well with time. They need reminders about how much time remains for an activity and what comes next. You can help guide them by creating a routine for the evening and morning using visual cues and verbal reminders. Download this visual cue chart to help your kids remember what they need to do throughout the day. When giving verbal cues make sure to give 3 warnings before a transition, and try to keep the time correct (like 2 minutes shouldn’t be 10) so that they can begin to understand how long intervals of times are.

 

Read books about starting school

So we all know reading is beneficial to kids, but it is also a pressure free way to bring up topics that might be hard to broach as well as a way to normalize their feelings. Don’t force them to talk after the book is done, you aren’t reading it to start a conversation, you are reading it to plant a seed and open a door, so that later on if they want to talk they know they can. Here are a couple or great lists of books to read about the start of a new year.

Parents Choice, Back to School Books

The Happiest Home, Books About Starting School

 

Don’t say it’s going to be ok, teach your kids problem solving skills.

Often times our kids tell us they are worried, or scared about something and we say things like, “it’s going to be ok” or “don’t worry, people will like you.” Most of us have done this. I know I certainly have. I’ve done it because I know that it’s true, but the point is that our kids don’t, and they are really worried about it. So next time your kid tells you they are worried that they aren’t going to have friends, teach them how to make one. Teach them how to ask someone to sit with them at lunch or play with them at recess. Teach them how to look for another kid that may be feeling the same way by paying attention to what their interests are and what they like to do when there is free time at school. Teaching kids to cope with their anxiety isn’t about telling them things will be ok, it’s about teaching them how to make things ok.

Test it out.

Kids with anxiety like to know what’s coming, so help them by driving them by their school, even if they have been there before. Show them where they are going to be dropped off and picked up. If they are going to be taking the bus walk them to the bus stop so they know where it is and how long it takes to get there. Go out of your way to drive by the school a few other times as well. You don’t need to point it out every time you drive by, but it is important that they become more comfortable with the outside of the school.

 

Get your own worries under control.

When we, as parents, are worried about something we tend to give off a certain energy that our already anxious kids pick up on. So if you are worried about your kids’ transition to school make sure you use all your self care techniques to manage your own emotions. Remember it is totally normal to feel worried about the transition. I’ve already confessed that I am terrified. I know he will be fine and I know I’m not the only parent worried about what this school year will look like. If you’ve read this far, remember you are never alone in your feelings, and if you need help or want to chat we are always here.

Tips for Talking to Anxious Children About Shootings and Violence

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Let me start out by saying that this is not the post I want to be writing today. To date, I have “re-published” this post several times since it was originally written on December 3, 2015. Every time there is a school shooting, a shooting at a festival, nightclub, place of worship, or other place that society deems “safe,” I spend the day trying to wrap my head around how I’m going to address it in my work.

How can I help anxious mothers send their children off to school knowing that fearing a gunman is not irrational in today’s America. And how can they help comfort their own children who are scared? How can I look the children I work with in the eye and help them process something like what happened today in Florida?

Needless to say, I am tired of it. Something has to change, but until it does, I will continue to provide a safe place to talk about it and to support those affected.

And, if you are as tired of this as I am, consider a donation to Sandy Hook Promise, whose mission is to prevent gun-related deaths due to crime, suicide and accidental discharge so that no other parent experiences the senseless, horrific loss of their child.

So, once again here are 5 tips for talking to anxious (and not anxious) children about shooting and senseless violence.

(Originally posted on 12/3/15)

On a daily basis I work with children whose anxiety is heightened by the senseless acts of violence that have been occurring around the world. While there is a lot of information regarding how to talk with children regarding terrorism and other acts of violence, I haven’t come across too much information on how to talk to children who are already suffering from anxiety.

If you are parenting a child with anxiety chances are you already work overtime anticipating your child’s reaction to daily stressors, so, when senseless acts of violence occur you probably worry about how this will affect your child. You may try to turn off the TV, limit and more closely monitor screen time, and not watch the news. While hiding the problem may seem like the easy answer, it is not the best one, and can increase your child’s sense of fear and anxiety when they learn the truth.

Below are 5 tips for talking with your anxious child following an act of terrorism

1.    Help restore their sense of safety at home.

Following shootings anxious children often believe that someone is going to break into their house and harm them. It is important to remind them that they are safe and that they are not currently at risk of getting hurt. Walk them around the house and show them how you stay safe at home. Let them lock doors and windows themselves, and if you haven’t already done so create a safety plan with them so that if they are scared or something bad does happen they know how to handle it.

2.    Use appropriate language and concepts.

While it is important to be honest with your children, make sure you are doing so using age appropriate language and concepts. Children with anxiety are already more fearful that something bad may happen to them. It is important to help them understand the difference between what is real and what is fantasy. Help them stay in the here and now and not create scenarios that are not real by using simple language and concrete examples.

When talking about the act of violence emphasize facts. For example, if you are talking about a school shooting, use the name and location of the school, so the child does not begin to fantasize that it happened at their school.

For younger children being brief and simple is enough. Remind them that trusted adults are there to protect them and help keep them safe. Use examples that they can relate to or understand.

For older school aged children who have a better understanding of the impact of violence follow their lead. Answer their questions as directly as possible and remind them to speak up if they see something out of the norm. Do not try to introduce concepts that are too complex or beyond their cognitive ability as this will increase their anxiety and decrease their sense of safety.

3.    Be honest about your own feelings.

Acts of terrorism make us question our safety; they scare us and make us fearful of daily activities. This type of reaction is appropriate and normal, and your children should know that. By disclosing your own feelings of sadness and fear you are helping them understand that their feelings are justified.

4.    Make time to talk

Set aside time each day to check in. You don’t have to talk directly about the act of terrorism, but check in regarding their day and how they felt. This creates an opportunity for them to share their fears if they need to.

5.    Maintain your routine.

Changing your routine because of an act of terrorism reinforces anxiety. It is important that you keep your routine consistent so that your children feel secure. If you have to change routines for safety reasons make sure to talk through the changes so that it doesn’t create additional worries.

And most importantly remind your child that they are loved and that you are there for them no matter what.

**Always remember to observe your child closely following a traumatic event. If their symptoms of anxiety remain increased and they are unable to cope with them on their own make sure to seek the help of a professional. Lori Allen, MFT specializes in treating school-aged children with anxiety, as well as offering parenting support and working with pregnant and postpartum moms. If you are in the Southern California area and need help please give us a call today at (818) 917-6596.