September is the “New Year” for most children and youth as they enter the school year. Here are some tips for parents on how to deal with “Stresstember” and how parents can support children/teens in dealing with the back to school anxiety/reality.
- Remember the basics and embrace the structure. Regular sleep, exercise and nutritious food go a long way in decreasing anxiety. Although we resist the return to structure and predictability it is good for us – and we often thrive in structure.
- 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/stressed when things change. The reality is that there is usually some loss associated with change, but there are gains as well. Have an honest conversation with your children/teen about change and ask what they feel they might lose and what will they gain with the new school year.
- 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 starting something new. 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.
- 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.
- 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, be a matchmaker and connect with other children and families at the school. For older children, talk with them about the new terrain and the structure the new school year is bringing. For youth heading off to university talk let them know it is ok to feel overwhelmed by all of the changes and that no matter what you always have their back.
- 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 it will increase your children’s anxiety. Look for ways to take care of yourself first so that you are grounded and can guide them through the changes. Look for positive things and keep your focus on the big picture.