School Is Back And Your Child’s Anxiety Might Be Too

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Back-to-school butterflies are common at the start of every new school year as our kids adapt to new teachers, new routines, shifting friend dynamics and more. And this year especially, after so much change and with some uncertainty still lingering, your child’s anxiety might be at an all-time high. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help.

Talk about feelings, theirs and yours

Some children naturally have more worries than others, and many don’t like to talk about their feelings. Ongoing reminders that you’ll always be there for support will go a long way. And although it can be hard to wait for your child to come to you with any concerns, it’s essential to be patient and allow them the necessary time and space.

Many kids feel stress about fitting in or bullying, not doing well enough in school, resolving troubles with a teacher or using the school bathroom. COVID-19 worries are also still top-of-mind. In many cases, your simple but steady support can help:

  • • Acknowledge you hear their concerns, whatever they may be
  • • Be sympathetic, understanding and supportive
  • • Normalize feelings in the moment, and explain that it is also normal for emotions to change many times during the day
  • • Point out the steps you (and others) are taking to protect them (and what they can do to protect themselves)
  • • Stay committed to offering your support as they work through each issue

Also, remember your child will learn from your example. Try to be a good role model for managing and overcoming your own worries in a healthy way.

Set the foundation: Back to basics

A healthy lifestyle is crucial for children with anxiety. Focusing on taking care of the basics around your home can help you all live easier and with less stress.

Allow time to unwind

Practicing mindfulness, meditation and deep breathing techniques can help manage symptoms of anxiety. It may also help to give children unstructured, quiet time throughout the day.

Keep a good bedtime routine

Kids need the right amount of sleep to maintain their physical, mental and emotional health. Preschool kids should get 10 to 13 hours of sleep, school-aged children should aim for nine to 12 hours, and teens should get around eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, according to national guidelines.

Help them stay active during the day

Most kids ages 6 to 17 should do at least an hour of physical activity every day. Work with your child to find a form of exercise they enjoy, whether it’s an organized sport like soccer, neighborhood activities like bike-riding or a class like karate.

Shop for healthy foods

Plan ahead so you have enough food in the pantry for healthy cooking. And meals don’t have to be creative or elaborate to be healthy — simple, wholesome foods on a weekly rotation will do the trick. Include as many fruits and vegetables as possible, and from there, focus on whole grains; legumes like beans, peas and lentils; and lean proteins, nuts and seeds. Limit sugary treats and saturated fat.

If your child’s anxiety peaks in the mornings before school, plan a routine together to help them get out the door on the right foot. Simple steps, like making sure they have clean clothes ready to go and a simple breakfast that feels easy on a nervous stomach, can make a difference.

Watch for signs that more help is needed

Kids show anxiety in different ways and it can depend on their age. Very young children may cry or act extra clingy at drop-off, while older school kids might argue about going to school or complain of physical symptoms like a stomachache or headache. It’s normal for this to happen occasionally and fade over a few weeks.

However, if school has been in session for more than a few weeks and you’re still dealing with these behaviors, it’s likely time to get help, especially if your child’s worries are getting in the way of their daily life or interaction with family and friends.

Jennifer Williams is a licensed clinical professional counselor with Luminis Health.

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