More than First Day Jitters
Tools for parents with anxious children
By Charity Hagains MA, LPCS
The first few days of school are now behind us. The school supplies have been opened, the new clothes have been worn, and the morning photoshoots have given way to rushing out the door on time. As the routine begins to set in, many children begin to relax and ease into their new roles. They may feel a sense of peace at having the boundaries of the day restored and renewed purpose for school achievement. However, some children may feel the opposite during these first few weeks.
While the anxiety of starting a new year can often hit children on or before the first day, there are still many children who experience those feelings days or even weeks into the new year. Often the first few days are a bit chaotic as they learn where to go and what is expected of them. Knowing this, teachers go out of their way to make the first few days fun. Anticipating social anxieties, educators are trained to break the ice in their classroom and lighten the mood as they build rapport with their students. Sometimes that’s enough to help children through those nerves, but sometimes it falls short.
If your kiddo is experiencing some of those second week anxieties, here are a few helpful tips to reassure and support them through this complicated time:
- Ask. Casually asking “Overall how do you feel about the ___ grade?” “What is math class like?” “How does lunch work? Who do you sit with?” This lets them know you are curious about their day, and opens the door for them to share their struggles.
- Validate. Letting your child know you hear their frustrations and aren’t judging them, is vital to having an open and trusting relationship. It is important not to make suggestions, tell them they are wrong, disagree with their feelings, or try to redirect them during this. As an adult, you may find this situation to be silly or the worry to be baseless, but your child does not. It is real and painful for them and your job is to be present in that pain with them, not change it for them. “That sounds really hard.” “I can only imagine what that was like for you,” or even a silent hug does more for your child than any piece of advice ever could.
- Wait. Before you put your problem solving super skills into action, wait for your child to ask for help. Saying “I remember 5th grade was a hard year for me, so many changes seemed to happen that year.” “I have had disloyal friends and it was one of the hardest moments I can recall.” “Ugh, mean teachers can be the worst!” Unconsciously you are telling your child that you know what it is like to experience this, and you have gotten through it. This knowledge gives them reassurance they can ask you how you dealt with situations, and gives them the control to hear your sage advice when they are ready to receive it.
Having survived to adulthood we know these concerns eventually pass, but at this moment your child is just learning that life lesson. It may cause you a great deal of anxiety and hurt to hear your child struggle through the same pains we all did. For that reason, seeking your own support system can be so helpful as a parent. Hit up other parents, your own family, or reach out to a professional to get the much needed and deserved support as you tranche through these difficult times with your child.
If your child’s distress does not dissipate in a couple of weeks, seek outside help. At Noyau Wellness Center we specialize in child and adolescent counseling because we know these early years are so developmentally important. How your child learns to experience difficult emotions plays a huge role in their coming adulthood. It’s a special, but complicated time in a person’s life and we strive to be a cornerstone for those growing minds.