With school starting this week I am seeing a lot of mixed emotions around me from moms and kids. I have heard feelings of relief, sadness, disbelief about how fast the time has gone, and lots of emotions of missing each other. I wanted to provide some cute ideas about how to help your child if he or she is experiencing anxiety with the transition to school for the first time or back to school.
My first piece of advice is for moms and kids of every age. It is so important not to judge the feelings you or your child is having about school starting, especially if they are really mixed. When we judge our feelings it does not actually help or make the feelings resolve, it just compounds them and makes them more difficult to cope with.
As a Mom, do not judge if you are so excited for your kids to go back to school, if you are so glad to have a moment of freedom. Do not judge if you are experiencing a lot of strong feelings about the lost time, babyhood being over, or missing your kids. Do not judge if you feel both. If you can sit with your feelings in a loving and compassionate way, you are teaching your child to do the same.
Sit down with your child and a feelings chart and ask them how they feel about starting school. Have them pick one or two emotions and sit and listen. Do not offer advice or help at this time. Just be willing to sit with them and be with them in whatever it is they are feeling. Let them know that any feelings they have are ok, and that you are on their team. Let them know that you believe in them and trust that they can do hard things.
Choose one or two affirmations for your family or your child for the school year. I saw one friend today who choose the affirmation, “be the kind kid.” Repeat these affirmations to your kids each day before school. Make a sign to hang in the kitchen with your affirmation and repeat it with the kids every morning before school. Write the affirmation into a page of their day planner or notebook. Some examples of these could be,
“I can do hard things”
“I can care for others”
“I can work hard to learn”
“I can have courage”
try to tailor the affirmation to your child’s specific struggles and makes sure to word it with positive language.
3. Deep Breaths
Taking deep breaths is one of the only ways to calm physiological feelings of anxiety and panic. Deep breaths indicate to the brain that we are safe and do not need to use one of our ancient survival techniques of “flight, fight or freeze.” When a tough situation comes up and anxiety is high, our heart rates increase and breathing becomes shallow. This is a response our bodies have learned from the beginning of civilization. If you can teach your child and yourself to take good deep breaths, they will have a ready made skill when someone makes fun of them, they don’t know the answer, or have to speak up in class.
I taught my three year old a technique for taking deep breaths that he seems to understand. I put my fingers near his mouth and tell him to blow bubbles. I have him take a deep breath in through his nose and breath out through his mouth as if he was blowing bubbles. I then pretend my fingers are bubbles floating up to the sky. He loves this and thinks it is so fun. If you have an older child, have them lay down and put a red solo cup on their belly. Challenge them to make the red solo cup rise as they breathe in by using their diaphragm muscles. You and your kids can have contests to see if you can get the solo cup to rise with each inhale and fall with each exhale. You can also teach your kids to count their breaths, count four counts as they inhale, four counts of holding their breath, and four counts as they exhale. Kids can usually do these deep breaths at their desk with no one noticing. The key is to have practiced the skills at home.
4. Comfort Objects
If your child is especially sad about leaving you for the day, consider sending them with a comfort object. I sent my anxious nephews to school with a “lucky penny” one year. I told them to keep it in their pocket and to rub it if they are feeling anxious. The next year I got each one of them a Rose Quartz Worry Stone to keep in their pocket and rub if they were feeling anxious or sad. They were in kindergarten and third grade so I told them the rock had magic powers to calm them down.
You can also send your kids with pictures of your family in their school planners or binders. A girl may like to have a locket with your picture inside that she can hold close to her or rub if she is missing you. I also just had a friend buy her son a stone on a necklace that he could touch or rub if he was feeling anxious or sad.
5. Lunchbox notes
Whether you send your kids to school with a lunchbox or not, its always a fun idea to send them with a little note each day. Notes can include thoughts about how you know they can be kind, you believe in them, you think they are brave, and that they can do hard things. You can send it in a backpack, folder, or with lunch. Jessi from WholeHeartMagic created some adorable printable lunch box notes here
6. Kindness assignments
Research shows that it is an effective strategy for battling anxiety and depression to look outside of ourselves. Talk to your kids about how all the kids going to school are probably feeling some type of insecurity and they are not alone. Give your kids “kindness projects” so that they can practice looking outside of themselves. Give them an extra pencil to share with someone they see as struggling, challenge them to give a compliment, give them a few stickers to share or an extra treat to share at lunch. If you can help them look outside of themselves, this will be a lifelong skill that can help with any difficult situation.
7. Watch your own reactivity
Kids take a lot of cues from us as parents about how to interpret or handle certain situations. If we can avoid inserting our feelings into a situation, but instead asking our children, “how do you feel about that” or “what do you think we should do about this problem?” it empowers them to feel that they can tackle anything. They know they can come to you with their emotions, and without having to worry that you will have strong emotions they need to help you through. Encourage assertive communication on the part of your kids, and if you are really emotionally activated by a situation, make sure to talk with your spouse or a friend about it before suggesting solutions to your child. Also make sure you are empowering your children by asking what they think should be done in any given situation.
Any other suggestions for helping an anxious child with a new school year? Post thoughts in the comments and good luck to all you amazing parents out there!