It seems like every year the summer season gets shorter and shorter, and before you know it autumn hits (or what passes for autumn in Texas). For many adults this shift doesn’t significantly affect their day-to-day routine. However, for children this change is often huge. Gone are days filled with camps and vacations (or if they’re like me as a child, hours-long SpongeBob SquarePants marathons); children return to a world occupied by school and extracurricular activities.
While the period before school starts is a time of excitement, it can also result in increased stress for many children. Kids often experience anxiety related to things happening at school, from exams and assignments to sport tryouts and where to sit in the cafeteria. Add in the fact that many kids will be returning to in-person learning after a difficult year of virtual schooling, and it’s no wonder that many kids view the upcoming schoolyear with anxiety and apprehension. Below are tips to help parents support their kids in managing their stress and worries related to school so that they can start the year off on the right foot!
- Communication is key. Many kids struggle to put their fears into words, or they may not be aware that they are experiencing school-related anxiety. It’s important to create a space for kids to feel comfortable voicing their concerns and to process and explore the anxiety they’re experiencing. Let them know that it’s ok to worry, and that you are there to support them whenever they need it.
- Coping skills can reduce stress. Coping skills are strategies that we use to help lower our stress levels. Things like deep breathing, talking to family and friends, or reading a book can all help kids learn to regulate their emotions in times of distress. It may also be helpful for parents to discuss their own experiences with stress and use of coping skills with kids, to model helpful behavior and teach kids that it’s ok to take a step back and breathe when feeling stressed or anxious.
- Work within your circle of control. Too often we attempt to exert control over situations we can’t influence, and when we inevitably fail, we experience frustration, sadness, and shame. Help promote self-efficacy by encouraging children to recognize when a problem may be outside of their control, such as issues with school assignments or peer behaviors. By encouraging children to develop the skills needed to cope with (instead of eliminating) distress, parents can increase children’s confidence in their abilities and promote a sense of mastery and independence.
- Promote self-compassion. Unrealistic expectations and negative thinking are hallmarks of stress and anxiety. Many children have a tendency to strive for perfection in school-related activities, such as academics, extracurricular activities, and social interactions. Help children realize when the standards they have set for themselves are unhelpful and unrealistic, and encourage them to develop goals that promote grace and consideration toward themselves.
- Physical health is important, too. Our minds and bodies are inextricably connected, and when our bodies don’t feel well our minds can struggle, too. Help kids take care of their bodies by encouraging a balanced diet, a structured sleep routine, and lots of physical activity.
Written by Courtney Sanders, M.S. (Ph.D. Practicum Student)