As summer draws to a close it signals the start of a new school year in some parts of the world. The return to school after summer break can be both exciting and stressful, for both parents and children. We want our little ones to enjoy learning and be happy to wave us goodbye in the morning, but unfortunately this is often not the case. There is often a build up in the days prior to starting school, and children maybe more clingy, emotionally sensitive, prone to angry outbursts, or have physical symptoms such as stomach pains or headaches. So how do we best cope, for ourselves, and with supporting our children through this transition?
Mindfulness Is The Key
This isn’t about just being calm and meditating in order to relieve our anxiety or stress.
Mindfulness is about being open to our thoughts, feelings and experiences, even when they are negative and distressing.
Avoiding these things, although a natural response for most people, is actually not very helpful in the long run. And, it teaches our children that the negative stuff is no good, intolerable, and something that should be feared.
As parents, we are the first role models our children experience, and the most important.
If we can show them positive ways of accepting and managing anxiety, they will not only have a positive home environment, but will learn how to manage their own worries more successfully. So what does that mean in practice?
Be Aware And Observe
This means noticing your own thoughts and feelings, as well as what’s happening for your children.
Perhaps begin a conversation “How are you feeling about going back to school?”.
Some common worries that children have include:
• Who will be my new teacher?
• What if my new teacher is not nice?
• Will any of my friends be in my class?
• Who will I sit with at lunch?
• What if I can’t do something…will I look stupid?
• What if something bad happens to Mum and Dad while I am at school?
When you notice you are worrying, take a few deep, calm breaths.
Breathe into and around them.
Allow yourself to just breathe for a minute or two, nothing else.
You can also do this with your child if they are distressed.
This gives your body a chance to slow down, and get back to a resting state.
When we feel anxious, our body goes into automatic action, ready to either “flight” or “fight”; our heart beats faster and our body gets ready to protect us from harm.
But this biochemical response is not helpful for us when we are triggered by thoughts and feelings, rather than a runaway tiger or some other immediate danger!
Once you notice what it is that you are thinking and feeling, and you have given yourself a moment to just breathe, you can now make room for these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This means not avoiding them, or dismissing them, but actually creating some space for them within your experience. Remind yourself that these thoughts and feelings are a normal part of being human. Be inquisitive. Ask yourself, “Why am I thinking or feeling this way?” “What is it that is important to me?”.
You can also do this with your child through conversation. Remind them that this is normal, and that feeling worried is something that even adults experience. Encourage them to share their worries with you. You might then ask “Instead of feeling this way, how would you like to feel?”. This will give you a good idea of what is important for your child. It might be that they need to feel safe, or confident, or in control of their environment.
Give yourself permission to have this experience. Remind yourself “It’s OK to feel this way”. This is also really important for your child. Let them know that it is OK. That you can tolerate their worries, and you can help them find a way to tolerate them too. We too often dismiss our children’s anxieties by simply wanting to reassure them; “You don’t need to worry about that!”, we often say. But this doesn’t show our children how to manage their thoughts and feelings. It actually models to them that negative thoughts and feelings should be avoided or repressed.
So, it is really important to take care of ourselves, so that we can support our children. Allow yourself to be mindful, and bring a sense of acceptance and peace to your own world, so that you can model this for your children. With this mindfulness, you are then able to more positive problem-solve and find a positive way of coping.
Encourage your child to think of ways to solve his or her problem. For example, “If …. happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some things you could do if this happens.” This allows you and your child to positively rehearse ways of coping with the feared situation.
You become a “coach” and you can even role-play the situation with your child. This allows them to experience the situation in a safe way, with you to guide them through their chosen coping strategy. This can help them build confidence in dealing with the actual situation if it should arise at school.
Finally, don’t forget to have positive conversations too! Encourage your child (once you have acknowledged and made space for the worries) to think about some good things about returning to school. You might ask “What are three things that are going to be good about your first day of school?”. Even if it’s just eating their favourite snack at break time, helping your child remember something positive can create a shift and reduce their focus on the negatives.
For More Useful Tips On Managing The Back To School Transition Helping Your Child Cope With Back To Scholle Anxiety
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