I get it. Your child’s anxiety may have been so out of control during a previous year’s back to school schedule that you want to prevent the out of control kind of anxiety that completely turns your household routine into a stormy mess. Most of us parents feel that our household schedule is a very delicate balance and out of control anxiety can really throw you for a loop. What do I mean by this?
Your child’s anxiety is out of control when: a) every day is a battle to get your child to get on the bus or walk into school, b) your little girl or guy cannot fall asleep at night and they tell you the reason is because they are worried about school, c) your household’s little student is suddenly wetting the bed, chewing their nails completely off, or having meltdowns nearly every school day when they were fine during summer break and with none of these signs when the weekend rolls around!
I have had many parents call during the first week of school to bring their children for therapy treatment to diminish symptoms of out of control anxiety. This is a great course of action so that the therapist can assist with helping to identify the primary source of the anxiety and to find the right intervention.
In the meanwhile, while you are waiting for therapy intervention to take effect, here are some tips for how you can react that will likely help your child.
1) It is tempting to discipline your child, especially if they are late for school or missing days as a result of school anxiety, however if you have tried this approach and it did not work, it didn’t work. Discipline should only be used if it is helps – if not then that usually means something else is going on. So, discontinue methods of discipline if you tried them consistently for a few days without the effect of diminishing symptoms.
2) Tell your child that you can see that they are scared and anxious. Say, “You are so scared of school right now that you are (fill in the blank). This will help your child feel validated.
3) Some children respond to parents treating them like they are younger than their age, and when they get this kind of attention they are able to muster the resiliency to manage school stress without the out of control symptoms. For example, if you have a 1st grader, you could hold them in your lap and rock them to sleep while singing songs like you used to do when they were in preschool. Or, if you used to read them stories but now you require your child to read to you then designate some time for you to read to your child.
Finally, try to stay calm yourself. If your child sees that you are upset about their out of control behaviors then that can sometimes perpetuate the out of control symptoms. Now, they are really freaking out and so are you. School does not feel like a safe place to be, but in some cases now home can feel unsettling as well. Stay Calm and Carry On! Eventually, your child will work through this and will figure out how to cope. Even though this is not an easy time, it will pass. I promise.