August is winding down and summer holidays are almost over. This is the time of year when many parents see their children’s anxiety increase. It is difficult to let go of summer and deal with the reality of school again. Here are some tips for parents on how to support your children in dealing with the back to school anxiety.
1. Remember the basics. Regular sleep, exercise and nutritious food go a long way in decreasing anxiety. The return to structure and predictability can be done in a way that eases everyone back into the routine. Little by little over the next week get the structure back in place. Get the younger children to bed earlier, and up earlier in the morning. For your teenage children discuss the importance of structure. Be clear on your expectations, but do not arbitrarily make all of the decisions. Listen to them and get them involved in establishing a progressive return to routine.
2. Discuss change. Use this transitional time as an opportunity to teach your children that change is natural, healthy and inevitable. It is OK to be sad when things change. The reality is that there is usually some loss associated with change, but there are gains as well. Change is only your enemy if you fight it. Have an honest conversation with your children about change and ask what they feel they might lose at the end of the summer, and what will they gain with the arrival of school year.
3. Anticipate your child’s anxiety. Let them know that it is natural to feel worried about the unknown and that anxiety is just part of life. It is natural to feel anxious about going back to school. We all feel anxious during a big transition – no matter what our age. Ask them if they are worried about any particular things and let them talk through it.
4. The antidote to anxiety is exposure – not avoidance! You can assist your children by working through anxiety rather than avoiding the things that are making us anxiety. In these times of “high anxiety” this an essential life lesson. We should not be trying to shield them from anxiety. Some simple deep breathing skills and mindfulness techniques can help them work through the anxiety and build resiliency.
5. Focus on belonging. In a concrete manner you can help your children by exposing them to some of the things that are making them anxious. For younger children, a return to the school and a play in the playground can go a long way to decreasing anxiety. For older children, gathering their supplies and setting up their structures can help them accept that the summer is ending. It is also helpful for them to be reconnect with their peers. We all want to belong, and bringing back the sense of belonging to their school and with their peers helps your child feel a part of the community again.
6. Manage your own anxiety. I cannot stress enough how important this point is. Where we lead, children will follow. If you are anxious and stressed about the new school year, they will also be. Look for ways to take care of yourself first so that you are grounded and can guide them through the changes that are coming. Look for positive things, and keep your focus on the big picture.
7. Focus on connection. Fill your children up with “you” and the secure feelings that come when your child has your attention and feels your enjoyment of the relationship. Don’t rush through the family time and spend some one-on-one time with your child whenever you can. This can be done though simple things like a talk and walk, or a family barbecue. Be present and enjoy your child; nothing else will prepare them better for that school year that that!