For most families, the slide from summer to autumn is a time of excitement and perhaps a bit of sadness at the coming end of the carefree vacation days. For a growing number of children, though, the days leading up to school are racked with dread.
Why such fear, when most of their peers are excitedly browsing backpacks and lunch boxes in the crowded stores? The simple answer is anxiety.
Anxiety in Children
Anxiety was once considered to be a purely adult affliction. What could possibly cause children to have anxiety? Today, the answer might surprise you. Some common fears children express about attending school include:
- Being the target of bullying or harsh judgement by peers
- Separation from their parents and/or families
- Separation from the safety and routine of the home environment
- Fear of underachievement or being overwhelmed by assignments
- Fear of violent acts such as school shootings and other terrors
This list doesn’t even touch on many of the stresses children of all ages might be grappling with outside of the educational setting – such as divorce, grief and loss, anger management, behavioral issues, learning disabilities and more.
With all of this to worry about, today’s students routinely begin battling with mental health issues far earlier than previous generations. This could be because of our ability to recognize symptoms more readily. Most mental health experts agree that students are simply under more stress than ever before.
5 Ways You Can Support Your Child
How can you help your child prepare for the return of school when they wrestle with anxiety? Regardless of your child’s age, the most important thing you can offer them is support.
Here are five simple ways you can help that overanxious child:
- Have open and honest discussions: Communicate with your child as a parent or family. Ask them how they are feeling and reassure them as needed. Do what you can to make sure they are informed of what is coming up and what will be expected of them once the school year starts. As any Allen counselor will tell you, fewer surprises mean fewer reasons to worry — and this is a comfort to students dealing with anxiety.
- Involve children in the preparation process: Take students shopping for supplies and offer choices whenever you can, Consumer Affairs says. Show them their school or classroom before the year begins, if possible. Let them meet their teacher or take them to back-to-school functions hosted by your school district. When children feel like they have some degree of influence and control over their situation, they are less likely to deal with anxiety because of it.
- Improve or maintain health habits: Children who are not eating and sleeping properly cannot maintain the physical health they need to support their mental health, explains Extension. Reinforce the lesson that every part of our body is worth caring for and makes a difference in our overall health. As the Sleep Foundation points out, you may be shocked by what a better night’s sleep can do for your student!
- Remain positive and persistent: Children look to their elders for indication of how they should perceive things – especially their parents. Do your best to remain positive and outwardly optimistic. Likewise, do not allow the temptation to give up convince you to let your child stay home from school or abandon assignments. Remind them that they can complete their tasks and that you are here to help if they need it. If you show your child that you believe they can achieve their goals, they are far more likely to do so.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help: Many families put off consulting a mental health or behavioral specialist because they want to handle their child’s issues at home. While this may work for many children, others can see marked improvement in anxiety and other hurdles by seeking professional help.
Counseling doesn’t have to consist of your child sitting alone in a room with a doctor. Centers like I Choose Change offer therapies ranging from individual and group play sessions for younger kids to relaxed and informal family counseling for the entire household. Parents searching for an Allen counselor and other services in the surrounding area can work with specialists to tailor a plan to their child’s needs. Looking for these kinds of options can mean the difference between your child receiving the kind of assistance they need to excel in school or facing another year of fear and doubt walking into their classroom.
Above all, it is important to keep your child’s needs and those of your family in mind when creating a game plan for tackling the start of school. Whatever you decide to do, don’t be afraid to tweak it down the road and look for additional resources when necessary. Together, you and your child can make this the best school year yet!