Avoid Back to School Anxiety
When I think back to elementary school, I can still smell the crayons. I had an old cigar box (absolutely unacceptable today!) for a pencil box. I kept pencils until they were sharpened down to stubs. To this day, that combination of crayons, erasers, pencil shavings, and well, let’s face it, probably lingering tobacco, overwhelms me with nostalgia and a longing for simpler times.
I’m sure I felt anxious from time to time, especially when attending a new school which, for me, happened seven times before eighth grade. But recently, in addition to all the normal back-to-school worries like, “What if I miss the bus?” or “Who will I sit with at lunch?,” there is anxiety about our threats to our health and to our sense of well-being. You can’t even Google “anxiety” without encountering hundreds of articles about COVID-19.
I found one article that shares ways for parents to deal with common back-to-school concerns. These suggestions are valid whether your child is heading preschool or college. You can read the full article at https://www.anxietycanada.com/articles/coping-with-back-to-school-anxiety/, but I’ll highlight some the steps below.
1. Take care of the basics. Sleep, healthy (consistent) meals, and daily exercise are all subject to neglect when a situation is new or stressful. A routine is crucial and comforting to everyone involved.
- Provide empathy. Listening is a tactic that should be a no-brainer but when a parent’s mind is already on the “next thing” (or next five things if you’re a mom), it’s tough to be present in the moment. It’s also a challenge when you have more than one child and each require different listening strategies. Determine whether your child is the type that likes to share while in the car, doing chores, or prefers one-on-one time and be intentional about the time you spend with them.
- Problem solve. When you and your student determine the source of the anxiety or fear, work together to develop a plan to address both the source and the symptoms. For example, it’s Sunday night and worries about the days to come set in just before bed. Help your student identify what they are feeling and why. She may have extra-curricular activities that week and is concerned she won’t have time to complete homework or a project. Affirm her concerns (step 2) and discuss ways for her to organize her time-set alarms or reminders to keep her on task. Set alarms and reminders for yourself to hold her accountable. Not only has she learned a new skill, she has learned a new strategy and the opportunity to gain confidence over a source of anxiety.
- Focus on the positive aspects. With a plan and a process in place for each area of concern, re-direct your child’s thoughts to the good things about school, sports, and other activities. Celebrate the wins in the week. (Set a reminder to do this!) Ask specific questions about what worked and what didn’t work. Focus on their accomplishments and develop another plan to address processes that weren’t carried out or that may have even caused more stress. Talk about how it makes them feel when they complete a task or handle a situation with strength and a good attitude.
- Pay attention to your own behavior. Dogs (well, most dogs) have the uncanny ability to gauge a person’s mood and stress level and will even sync their heartrates with their owner's. Sometimes I think our kids have the same gift. As parents, we need to practice steps one through four before we tackle their anxieties. Am I stressed out because he didn’t get his project finished? Am I frustrated because that “really good” plan for the week was completely derailed by day two? We must find balance between accountability and grace. We adults know better than anyone how even the best intentions don’t guarantee control over a situation. Be flexible. Be forgiving. Be confident and determined to try again. This is good advice when dealing with your student’s issues, but I’m talking about you (and me). Be flexible and pivot quickly when the unexpected occurs. Forgive yourself (and ask it of your family) when you lose your cool. Find the courage to start over or try again. When we check our behavior and take these steps ourselves, they will be more successful for our children.
I realize, even as I write, that this message, this topic, this bit of encouragement was for me! I really needed to “hear” it. Thank you very much, dear reader, for being the reason for the reminder. One of my goals as a parent is to be able to say this to my children:
“Whatever you have learned from me or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice.”
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