Easing Back-to-School Anxiety

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Anxiety is one thing, overcoming it is another. Here’s help for batting back your child’s back-to-school jitters.

You can get anxious about a new school year, but what about your child? Meeting new friends and teachers while trying to prepare his little mind for the upcoming year can sometimes become a little overwhelming.

No matter what, let him know he’s not alone. Anxiety is something that many kids face day to day. It can be dealt with in a natural manner, and the good news is, it can be reversed with tender, loving care.

Lynne Merk, Ph.D., a psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology, says there are ways a parent and child can handle anxiety together.

“Help children see anxiety as a natural part of life,” says Merk. “We all feel anxious sometimes, but there are things we can do to feel better. Ask your child what he thinks would help him feel better. Share with him things you do to calm yourself when you’re anxious,” Merk adds.

Evidence suggests that anxiety is genetic, Merk says, so some of us may be more prone to it than others. However, building a proper routine and lifestyle can help ease anxiety that some of us experience in our everyday lives. “There are environmental factors that can contribute such as experiencing significant conflict in daily life, not having daily needs met, facing significant change, being overscheduled, etc.,” says Merk. “In busy families, children often feel rushed, and this can also heighten their anxiety,” she says.

IDENTIFYING ANXIETY

Each child is unique. Your child has his own way of expressing stress and you can help him identify that and let him know it’s OK. “Many children just tell their parents they’re feeling nervous about school starting back, but other children are not as up-front,” says Merk. “Young children exhibit anxiety in different ways — increased irritability, complaints of physical symptoms (like headache or stomachache) and changes in sleeping or eating patterns.” School avoidance is often another sign of anxiety. “If a child’s anxiety is especially frequent, intense and is impairing functioning,” Merk continues, “that may be a sign to seek help from a therapist.” Other ways you can ease your child’s nervousness is to show him that he has control over his anxiety using calming techniques. This can be done by simply going for a walk, listening to soft music, giving him time to relax in between school, sports and homework, and applauding him for sharing new ideas or trying new things

3 Ways to Calm Kid Stress

1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE ANXIETY AND NORMALIZE IT. This can be done by telling your child about the anxieties you may have as a parent. Listen to him and help him to understand what makes him anxious and why.

2. ARRANGE A VISIT WITH YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER. Visiting the school and your child’s teacher is a great way to get acquainted. Keep it light and friendly and from there, you and your student can work forward together.

3. PLAN AND FOLLOW ROUTINES. Come up with a realistic plan for your child and family that includes a balance of school, activities and relaxation time. A plan that involves a good balance can help him relax and enjoy the new school year. 

— Lynne Merk, Ph.D.

Amanda Hayward is a freelance writer from Cincinnati, Ohio, and a military wife and mom of two. She is also a group fitness instructor and loves running and cooking up healthy recipes in her spare time.

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