Summer is fading at warped speed. It seems to go faster and faster every year. Along with summer’s end comes a new beginning . . . a new school year! Moms and kids alike spend weeks prepping for the first day back. Brand new sneakers, that perfect “back to school” outfit, and shiny new school supplies are just waiting to get the new school year off to a smashing success. Exciting, right?
However, if you are a mom to a child with anxiety, you know all too well that this entire experience is far from exciting. In fact, it can be down right agony!
Anxiety in Children
For children with anxiety, the start of ANYTHING new can cause a paralyzing fear to overtake their little bodies. They can’t help but feel like the world is crashing down around them. The days leading up to the start of a new school year can be daunting and can create a feeling of dread and fear.
Everything about the new school year is foreign to them: The grade level, the teacher, their classmates, the schedule, the demands of a new curriculum, and even something as little as how the teacher wants them to turn in their completed work. No big deal, right?
Thoughts race through their little brains: Will my teacher like me? What if none of my friends are in my class? And more.
As a mom of an anxious child, I have seen this first hand. Year after year it is the same. As soon as August rolls over on the calendar, your mind shifts to “next year” and all of the things needed to prep your little being for the next 10 months of his life.
So . . . what can you do to help your child be ready and willing to embrace the next year of his or her educational journey? Well, I am so glad you asked!
Talk About Their Fears
Spend some time with your child prior to the start of school, and allow him or her to tell you what is bothering them the most. To us adults, it may seem like their fears are minimal or nothing of great consequence. To a kid with anxiety . . . there is NOTHING that is “no big deal.”
Do your best to not dismiss ANY of their fears — no matter how silly you think they are being. Listen, and let them know that they are being heard.
When children are experiencing anxiety about anything, it often shows in their behavior. Children act out, are more emotional, or become defiant. Anxiety often presents itself as a spoiled, rotten brat.
Every time we are about to embark on a new adventure with our son, we try to think of anything that might help comfort him as the new situation approaches. Something as simple as giving him his favorite kind of sugar-filled breakfast cereal can save the day. The last thing you need is a meltdown over breakfast before you even make it to school.
Reassuring Is NICE, but . . .
Telling your child that he or she will be fine is definitely the most natural thing to say, but is it the most helpful thing to say? It makes them feel better in the moment, but will it help calm down in the long run?
Kids need to know how to handle their fears when mom or dad are not around to help. Help them walk through different scenarios and solve problems with various ways to help them cope.
Allow your child a chance to hunt for the good things about the upcoming school year. He or she may quickly say that nothing about school is good — don’t stop there. Remind your kids of the things he or she has enjoyed in previous years. Each new grade level brings new opportunities of which children can actively be a part.
Make Them Part of the Process
Preparing for the start of a new school year together can help your child be less fearful. Give him or her the power of choosing that new lunchbox or backpack. When children take ownership of something, pride is never far behind. Read a back to school book with your child. Discuss the character’s feelings and how he or she can relate to the character. This will make your kid realize he or she is not alone with his or her feelings.
Visit the School
Contact the school a few weeks before the school year begins and inquire about bringing your child up for a “quick” visit. Even if he or she is returning to a familiar school, giving your child a quick refresher of the layout of the building will help remind him or her of previous school years. Without a doubt, the feeling of familiarity will be a comfort to your child.
Anxiety is a very real thing that can be crippling to children. At times, the things our children worry about may seem silly or unimportant to us. Validate them . . . but at the same time, empower them to tackle each school year with confidence. They’ve got this!
Anna is also the mom-bassador for the FWMB Neighbor Group, Moms of Special Needs Tarrant County. This group is for any mother in the Tarrant County area who parents a child with mental illness, physical disabilities, and chronic illness.
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Good for you, Anna! People have been asking you to do this for quite some time. I am very proud to know you and I am happy that you are willing to share your experiences. I know it will help so many other mothers who need to know they are NOT alone in the struggle with a child who has mental health issues! I will continue to read your words, encourage others to read them, AND I will forever be in your corner!