Coping with back-to-school anxiety

Karla
Hylton

Sunday, September 16, 2018

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September signals a time of adjustment for the entire family as routines and schedules change.

But whereas the start of the new school year can be exciting for some kids, it can also cause an increase in anxiety in many others. In fact, countless kids are experiencing a plethora of emotions ranging from dread to excitement, or fear to euphoria. These emotions can be bottled up in our kids and will lead to anxiety.

The Oxford Dictionary defines anxiety as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome”. These anxious feelings are normal and expected, especially for kids changing schools or first-time schoolgoers. After all, there are numerous potential stressors — new environment, new teachers, new classmates, self-image concerns, lunch time woes, among other issues. Bear in mind that all of us, whether young or old, need time to adjust when placed in new situations.

Depending on the age of your child, separation anxiety during the first couple weeks is normal and is to be expected. This is most prevalent in kids entering early grades. It can reappear in older kids as they change schools.

However, parents should be aware that there are differences between normal anxiety and anxiety that may require medical attention. Normal anxiety will fade over the next few weeks. If anxiety and nervousness persist and are causing physical symptoms such as vomiting, headaches, panic attacks and sweating, then this could warrant seeking professional help. Research shows that anxiety disorders are the most diagnosed psychological disorders among young people.

Dealing with back-to-school anxiety

It is important that parents acknowledge that anxiety is customary and common. Your goal should not be to eliminate anxiety. Rather, you should be helping your child manage these emotions. Here are a few tips to help your kids manage back-to-school stressors.

1) Take care of your child's health

This means making sure your child has nutritious meals, exercise and enough sleep each day. A well-nourished, healthy and well-rested child will be able to overcome the challenges of a new school year much easier. Despite the early morning rush, ensure that your child is eating breakfast every morning. Keep in mind that as parents, you need to ensure that kids of all ages are getting sufficient exercise and sleep. There is a strong connection between physical health and mental health.

2) Show empathy

Be open to listening to your kids and commiserate with their day-to-day concerns of back-to-school. Validate your child's back-to-school jitters by acknowledging that it is okay to feel some anxiety at this time. Avoid blanket statements such as, “You will love school” or “You have to go to school, I don't care what you have to say”. Instead, show compassion and speak specifically to each concern your child may have.

3) Model good behaviour

Back to school time can also lead to anxiety in parents and caregivers. The pressure is on to reinstate routine and arrange all the extra-curricular activities as well as resume homework monitoring. Children take their cues from us, so be careful that you are sending the right signals. Your anxiety can be contagious. You do not want to appear overwhelmed, anxious or frustrated. Be confident and upbeat about the school year. Remain positive about school despite any negatives you may perceive.

4) Address difficulties early in the school year

If academics are of concern to you and your child, tackle these issues swiftly. This could mean that you set academic goals with your child, get your child appropriate tutoring, establish a study schedule, or speak with teachers. Get the school year started with a positive and viable action plan.

To all students and parents, I wish you a successful and rewarding school year.

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools. She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, bio chemtutor100@gmail.com or khylton.com.

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