10 Tips for Tackling School Anxiety

School Related Anxiety Pin

Summer has officially ended, and school is in full swing. Often times, the start of a new school year can be anxiety provoking for children of all ages and personality types. With new students, new rules, and a new teacher, the start of school can make even the most extroverted and energetic student anxious. Here are 10 helpful strategies to prepare for and cope with school-related anxiety for children of all ages and personalities:

Notes of Encouragement:

Write a short note to your child and slip it into their lunch box every morning. These can be short and sweet, serving as a quick reminder that their loved ones are thinking of them. Try to include positive phrases about the child, such as, “You are a fantastic reader!”, “I am very proud of you!”, or “You will make some great friends today!”. These uplifting phrases can keep your child’s thoughts in a positive direction! If your child does not pack a lunch, you can always slip the note in their backpack, or in a folder that they check at the end of the day.

Dress for Success:

Come to school the first few weeks sporting the most comfortable and functional clothes. As much as every parent wants their child to look like the coolest kid in school, it is important that the child feels comfortable and their outfit is functional. If a child has a favorite shirt they always like to wear – even if it’s not your favorite – let them wear it. Feeling comfortable will allow them to focus their attention on what’s important: school! Coming to school with functional clothes cannot be over emphasized! Skinny jeans during gym, jelly shoes with heels, and long-sleeves during a warmer fall are all examples of poor functionality. If you can’t do jumping jacks in skinny jeans and heels, neither can your child.

Provide a Familiar Face:

Tape a favorite picture of you and your child inside their desk, lunch box, or backpack. You can even laminate the picture for increased durability. Seeing a familiar face, a loving parent, or a favorite memory will provide some extra comfort throughout the day.

Practice Positive Phrases:

At home, practice some positive phrases the child can tell themselves when they are nervous. Just as adults practice positive self-talk in the shower, car, or bathroom mirror, this strategy can be helpful for children too. Phrases such as, “I am doing my very best!”, “I am capable of success!”, or “Just keep swimming!. Just keep swimming!” can help calm a nervous child in the moment. These short mantras can be practiced at home and used at school silently.

Trial-run Through Transitions:

Knowing the layout of the school can ease a child’s anxiety as well. Children are expected to rotate classrooms and navigate campuses even in Kindergarten now! If a child is nervous about finding their way around or being late, a good strategy is to do a trial run of their schedule. After school, once the commotion has died down, you and your child can walk through each transition throughout their day so they are confident they will know where to go, and how to get there.

Ignore the Small Stuff:

Try to keep from nit-picking small behaviors during the first few weeks. It is very common for kids of all ages to chew on shirt collars, sleeves, nails, fingertips, erasers, and pencils, as well as play with their hair or not eat all their lunch. These behaviors are often a way to reduce anxiety and can also provide some sensory relief. Focus your energy on increasing their confidence, and once the anxiety has reduced, then you can start implementing some replacement behavioral strategies for such behaviors. In fact, many children actually stop exhibiting these behaviors on their own after the first month or two of school.

Practice Positive Self-talk:

Start each morning off by listing 3 positive things about your child. This is a great activity to do during breakfast or the car ride to school. Ask the child to list the 3 things themselves, but feel free to jump in and help if they are struggling. Practicing this activity every morning will help your child develop a positive self-esteem and create a positive narrative about themselves that focuses on their strengths and accomplishments.

Ease into Academics:

Focus less on grades during the first few weeks of school, and more on how well their day went, what they did well at, and things they are proud of. Taking the focus off of grades will relieve some pressure until the child is more settled in. Once the child is feeling confident or less anxious, then the focus can be redirected back to academics.

Keep a Full Belly:

Start each morning out with a good breakfast. Schoolwork, new environments, and anxiety can be mentally and physically tasking. By lunchtime, most kids are starving during the first few weeks of school. Having a hearty and nutritious breakfast can ensure a child has the mental and physical energy to do their best throughout their day.

Provide Reassurance:

Remind your child that it is okay to be nervous. Reassure them that many other kids in their class are probably feeling the same way. Try to think of a time when you were nervous (at work, during a presentation, or back when you were in school), and talk to your child to show them that you understand what they are feeling. Children often think of their parents as superheroes, so when they realize that Super-Dad and Wonder-Mom also get nervous they will feel relieved. They will feel even more assured when they hear how their parents overcame the experience and succeeded.

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 nessa

Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This blog (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) is for informational and educational purposes only. No therapist-client relationship arises. The information provided and any comments or opinions expressed are intended for general discussion and education only, even when based on a hypothetical. They should not be relied upon for ultimate decision-making in any specific case. There is no substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health specialist, or even a physician, who could best evaluate and advice based on a careful, considered evaluation of all pertinent facts. Likewise, it is understood that no guarantee or warranty arises from the information provided or discussed on this (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) blog.

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Talking to Children about a Diagnosis

Talking to Children about a Diagnosis

Dealing with a serious diagnosis, whether it be your own or that of a family member, is a difficult and complex process.  Having to break the news of the diagnosis to your children is even harder.  Most parents battle between preventing unnecessary anxiety and stress in their child’s life, and preventing their child the opportunity to take advantage of the time still left (in the case that the diagnosis is terminal).  Many parents wonder how much they should tell their child, if their child even understands what the diagnosis means, and fear the damage the news might do to their little one.

Despite what parents may fear about too much information, a good rule of thumb is to be as open and honest as possible.  Children have great imaginations.  When they are left with missing pieces or an incomplete story, they will fill the gaps themselves, which can be dangerous.  Even children as young as 3-years-old will wonder how exactly the pieces fit and start to fill the gaps.  Children are like sponges; they absorb immense amounts of information from the world that surrounds them.   They pick up information from the television, advertisements for medications and treatment, their classmates at school, magazines, overheard phone conversations, and their parents mood that day.   No matter how young your child is, they can tell the difference between Mommy’s mood when she is talking about Grandma who is “sick”, and when she is talking to the neighbor.  Thinking your child is too ignorant to understand what is going on will not do you any good.  A lack of communication and ambiguity about what is going on will also give your child the message that the topic is not to be talked about, discouraging your child from asking any important or bothering questions they might have.   Many times children are left with questions that go unanswered because they were too afraid to ask, and no one took the opportunity to talk to them.   Keeping an open line of communication with your children about the changes that are occurring will allow you to reassure your child of any fears they may have, relieve any unnecessary stress, and allow your children to express their love and admiration to whomever may be ill.

Once you are ready to talk to your children, there are several factors to consider and ways to approach the situation.  If there is a large age difference between your children, it may be best to talk to each child separately, which will enable you to use the correct, age-appropriate language that each child will understand best.   Different age groups will also have different questions.  You may not be prepared to talk with your 7-year-old about a question that your 16 year-old is wanting to know.  It is always important to remember that siblings talk as well.  If you are going to keep an older child privy to more information than a younger child, it is important to remember that some of those details might be unintentionally (or intentionally) divulged by the older sibling, which may leave the younger sibling feeling shocked, and hurt for being kept in the dark.

When approaching the topic with your teenager, it is best to find a time to talk where you know you will not be interrupted and you will have plenty of time should your child have many questions.  Do not sit down with your child to talk before something important like a basketball game they have later that night, or right before they are about to go out with some friends.  If your time is limited and you have to talk to them during a not-so-opportune moment, make sure you are willing to make some adjustments to their schedule or cancel any appointments should they have a hard time with the news.

When approaching the topic with your younger children, it might be helpful to get a feel for what they already know and understand about both the concept of illness and death, and also about the situation that has been going on (possibly they have an idea that something is wrong based on little pieces of information they picked up on at home).  A great suggestion for this is to have a family, “questions and answer” session.  Sit down with the entire family, and introduce the topic of illness.  Ask your children to tell you what they know about being ill, and see what responses you get.  That may give you a good base and language example to use when you reveal the news.  Then give each child some strips of paper and a pen, and have them write down all the questions they have. (Depending on the age of the child, a parent may have to write down the question for them as the child whispers it in their ear) Each child will place their questions in a big bowl, and the parents will take turns pulling out each question to answer.  The bowl will allow for anonymity, so the child is not afraid to ask a “stupid” or “wrong” question.  When you pick a question to answer, before you answer it yourself, ask your children if they know the answer to the question.  This will allow you to see what they understand first.   When you are finished, make sure to let your children know they can always talk about it and ask more questions as they come.  You can even put the bowl in a common area and let them know that if more questions come up later, they can put them in the bowl to be answered.  Always leave plenty of opportunity for your children to ask questions and talk.

Also, ask your children questions as well! Ask them how they are feeling.  Ask them what they want to do about the news (maybe they want to make the person a card or send some flowers).  Ask them how you can help them during this time.  Although this may seem like a obvious point, I am going to mention it due to the technological age we live in.  Under no circumstances should this be topic discussed over a text or an email.  It should always be discussed in person.  Lastly, do not feel pressure to know the answer to every question.  If there is question you do not have the answer to, let your children know you will ask an expert who does know.  If it is a question about the course of a disease, call the doctor with your children.  If it is a question about grief/loss, or emotions in general, make an appointment with your mental health provider.  As a parent, you do not have to have the answers for everything, but just the willingness to be there and help your child find the answers.

Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.