In late August, when kids begin to shop for school supplies, they are faced with the inevitability that school is just around the corner. This can be the time that you begin to see those back-to-school worries kicking in.
Children, like adults, experience stress from a variety of sources. Some of their worry can arise from wanting to do well in school, not knowing who their teacher is, wondering if they will have friends, going to a different school, or starting something new. Certain forms of stress can be helpful when we need a burst of energy. However, too much can be debilitating.
Adults are often unaware that kids are experiencing stress. Tuning in to each child’s emotional and/or behavioral cues can help us to identify problems. Learning the language that kids use can help. Anxiety in kids is often seen in the questions they ask. Often these questions come in the form of “what if” statements: “What if they don’t like me?” “What if I fail the test?” “What if they laugh at me?”
It can be a challenge to remember that children can feel stress in the same manner that adults feel it. Their muscles can tighten, leading to stomach aches or headaches. I once saw a 12-year-old child who was convinced that he was “sick” because his stomach got upset often, requiring him to “need to be picked up from school.” Even as we talked about anxiety and how it can affect him, he insisted that he was sick. He had a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact his thoughts were racing due to anxiety, which in turn was causing his physical symptoms. It seemed that as we addressed that week’s stressors and developed a plan of action, he brought in new challenges for the next visit. For him, there was some comfort in believing that he was “sick” rather than anxious.
Sometimes we believe that our kids are feigning illness to get out of something that they don’t want to do, such as homework. It is easy to dismiss how they might be feeling when we think they are trying to put one over on us. How we handle kids’ anxiety can impact their ability to recover and “think through” to a solution. If our reactions are harsh and shaming, the child might shut down or withdraw. However, if our response is supportive and collaborative, it can help him or her to feel confident and capable.
Remaining positive, and encouraging and sharing times when we, too, have worried and how we worked it out, can be inspiring. Reassurance that everyone worries can help your child to normalize his or her experience. Developing alternative solutions with your child can further help alleviate some of his or her tension. Allowing kids to take an active role in creating positive solutions allows them to feel in control of their worry.
Some tips for parents or caregivers to help a child who worries include:
- Work on becoming more aware that any kind of change can create stress.
- Develop a schedule that incorporates quiet time into your child’s daily routine. Teach him or her how to relax.
- Model how to turn negative thinking into something more positive.
- Use affirmations with your child, and encourage your child to use them whenever he or she feels stressed.
- Teach your child how to control his or her breathing.
- Add more stretching or movement to your child’s daily routine, especially before bedtime to aid in sleep.
Utilizing these tips can help you and your child to better manage whatever life throws at you.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Teresa Collett, PsyD, therapist in Silverdale, Washington
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