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Practical Ways to Support Anxious Kids’ Return to School

Psychologist Collett Smart offers tips to ease the return to in-person education on her website, Raising Teenagers.

If you chatted to a group of 6 teens and asked, “How did you find life in lockdown?”, you would likely get 6 different answers. Some kids thrived – more down time, more outdoor activity, more able to work independently, more family connection, less noise, less distraction, less COVID infection to worry about, less playground bullying.

Others struggled – less face-to-face connection, less part-time work, less sport, more distraction, more of a struggle to work independently, more exposure to family issues, more online bullying.

Equally, if you asked, “How are you feeling about the return to school?”, you would get 6 different answers. My tween was busting to get back to school. Others, not so much.

First Steps

Begin by assuming they may be struggling and then proceed with gentleness and compassion.

The response of schools and parents can make all the difference in maintaining our children’s mental wellbeing going forward. Having them get back to school is going to be really important, but their return needs to be managed sensitively.

Ways to support kids who are anxious about school

Connect 

Many parents ask me how they can get their teen to open up and talk. The answer lies in your connection with them. Just enjoy being with your child, doing day-to-day tasks or a few fun activities. Sometimes side-by-side, without eye contact works well. Tune in when your teen begins to talk and express their thoughts.

Connection soothes stressed brains and provides a sense of a secure attachment, which is important for healthy emotional well-being.

Listen

  • Allow emotional expression. Emotional health requires emotional expression. It helps your child to have someone who will listen to them.
  • Remind your tween that you are safe for them to vent to. Their home is the safe space to express their feelings.
  • Give them enough time to express their feelings.
  • Acknowledge the frustration, fear or sadness they are experiencing – without giving answers.
  • Encourage your teen to name their emotion (as sometimes they don’t understand why they lashed out at the dog).

Thought challenging

  • This involves challenging the, ‘what ifs’. For example, take a negative or unhelpful thought that triggers anxiety and flip it into a thought that is more helpful and builds courage. Such as, “What if I go to school and my friends have forgotten me?”, could flip to, “What if I go to school and have fun connecting with my friends again?”.
  • During ‘worry time’ ask how they might change worried thinking into more realistic thinking by asking, ‘What are the facts?’, ‘What could I do to cope with X when I get worried?”

In Conversation 

  • Keep your voice calm. Think of it like taking your child through a fire drill. You need to communicate potentially alarming information in a factual, non-alarming, matter-of-fact way.
  • Don’t minimise their fears – Children mistrust us when we simply say,  “Oh, everything is going to be okay”,  because they know you can’t guarantee this. You could say, “My job is to look after you. What can I do to support/help you in this?”
  • Avoid excessive reassurance. Again, statements like, “Don’t worry” or “You will be okay” are unhelpful. Try asking questions that draw on the Emotional Support Ideas discussed above. Like, “Is there something you can do at school that will help you reach out for support?”
  • For anxious kids, talk through and then help them plan their own steps of getting back into the school routine.
  • Model how to deal with stressful situations in a calm manner.
  • Please seek mental health support if re-entry into school and life is making your child extremely anxious.

Excerpted from “9 Practical Ways to Support Anxious Kids Return to School” in Raising Teenagers. Read the full post online for more ways to support your tween’s or teen’s return to school.

Source: Raising Teenagers | 9 Practical Ways to Support Anxious Kids’ Return to School, https://www.raisingteenagers.com.au/9-ways-to-support-kids-who-are-anxious-about-returning-to-school | ©2020 – Raising Teenagers
People photo created by jcomp – www.freepik.com

A screening can help you determine if you or someone you care about should contact a mental health professional. Care Managers can arrange a free 30-minute Care Consultation so you can explore options with an expert. Call or email our Care Managers at 650.688.3625 or careteam@chconline.org to set up an initial Consultation appointment.

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