For many children around the world, there are three little words that they fear the most: back to school. The return to classrooms can cause anxiety, fear and stomachaches that make them suddenly unable to get out of bed.
If this is your child, know that you are far from alone. A survey of advisors conducted by The New York Times in April, it was found that school absenteeism rose to 85% compared to pre-pandemic. Nearly all counselors said students experienced increased anxiety and depression. They also have trouble regulating their emotions and problem-solving conflicts with friends, among other concerns.
So what can you do? We’ve collected a few tips and tricks to help your kids overcome their fears.
Ask them to write down their feelings
Putting everything on a piece of paper can be a very useful tool for clarifying anxious thoughts. KidsHealth suggests that you ask your child to make a list of everything they don’t like about school. Then ask them to write down any positives that come to their mind (that might remind them of things they forgot they had been looking forward to, like seeing a friend they like or taking a break!)
Tackle the list of negatives. That will help you get a sense of what’s really going on in your child’s brain and you can find a way to deal with those particular fears, be it problems with their peers or an aversion to a particular topic. . Now you have a base to work from.
Help them calm their anxious thoughts
Sometimes it can be as simple and powerful as breathing through their fear. There are numerous YouTube videos specifically designed for kids tackling mindfulness that can be helpful to watch before the school day. The Rainbow Relaxation routine, for example, is all about body movements and visualization. A guided meditation from GoNoodle aims to bring down stressful energy. And this creative melting exercise helps kids melt away any bad feelings.
Introduce your child to a mental health professional
Putting your child in touch with a psychologist can help him or her identify the cause of their school anxiety and find helpful ways to deal with it. Boys Town, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children and their families succeed, suggests there are therapeutic, practical methods for working through these mental blocks, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
“Treatment providers working with children with school refusal issues will often use cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps children manage their anxious thoughts and feelings and face their fears,” Boys Town noted. “[Kids can] learn and use skills that can help reduce anxiety/distress in children and parents.”
Suggest they only go to school for a period or two
Consider getting them back to school by providing a middle ground of only being there for part of the day. That compromise can make all the difference, because it at least gets them into the building.
“If you can get them to school for just a period or two a day, they will quickly discover that being in the building, among their peers and teachers, may be uncomfortable, but not catastrophic (a fear typically expressed by school-age refuse children),” psychologist John Duffy, author of Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxietywrote in an article for CNN in 2021. “And once kids are in the building, they’re much more likely to stay, often for another period or two, sometimes all day.”
Don’t try to teach
Eavesdropping on your own tone can make a big difference. Barbara Markway Ph.D., noted in an article for: PsychologyToday that parents should be careful how they approach the subject of school refusal with their children.
“Avoid long discussions and debates about the importance of going to school. Reading won’t do you any good, and it might actually make things worse,” she wrote. “Any attention, even negative attention, can amplify and perpetuate a problem.”
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