Back-to-school anxiety is very common, and this year, we expect that many children will be feeling anxious about returning to school after such an unusual school year. To support caregivers and parents, we’ve put together a few simple tips that can help manage anxiety in children going back to school.
To read all the tips, click here.
One way to support children who have anxiety is to help the child identify what the worry looks like. Let’s say a child is telling you that they are anxious about going back to school either through words (“I feel nervous to go to school this year”) or actions (having trouble falling asleep, demonstrating behavior that is not typical, complaining of stomach aches, throwing a fit or crying every time the subject of school comes up…). Once you’ve identified that this child may have back-to-school anxiety, you can help the child understand it and label it.
You might say, “It seems to me that you are worried about going back to school this year. I understand that. It makes sense that you might be worried; a lot is different this year. Sometimes when we are worried or anxious, we feel it in our body and in our mind.”
Not all children will be able to answer these questions or identify the worry, but asking the questions plants the seed and tells them that there is a connection between our anxiety and our bodies. It might make sense to answer some of the questions yourself, if the child needs support. For example, you might say, “I feel anxiety in my fists and my jaw. I notice that when I’m worried, I clench my fists and my jaw really tight.” Or you might say, “I notice that when you seem anxious, you chew on the neck of your t-shirt. Have you noticed that?”
Identifying this connection is the first step towards managing anxiety. When children are able to notice the warning signs in their body, they’re better able to intervene. For example, a child might notice that he’s chewing on his shirt, which helps him notice that he’s anxious. Noticing it might allow him to tell an adult or try a strategy that he knows works, before his behavior escalates into whatever typically follows as his anxiety ramps up.
The more we can help kids form a connection between their inner thoughts and their body’s reaction, the better in tune they can be with their emotions and their responses.