Overcoming school anxieties

September 1, 2008 3:18:43 PM PDT
Most kids are a little on the fence about going back to school. "The kids are thinking about who's going to be in my class. Are they going to like me?" Tammy Gold said.

She is parent, psychotherapist and life coach. Gold says to make the summer to school transition easier, parents should prepare themselves and their kids.

"Even if it's the day before, tell them what they can expect from the little ones to even the older ones," she said.

So talk about teachers, old and new and old friends. Send a family photo or favorite toy along with a kindergartner. "It's called a transitional object to remind them of home or parental figure," Gold said.

Once school's underway, look out for any behavioral, physical or social changes in your child, such as a lack of sleep or little interest in participating. It could be a sign of a bigger issue like bullying.

"Every child has a right to a stress-free education," she said.

Self confidence often plummets in kids, particularly girls 9 and up, so remembers to praise their successes, and help them learn from their failures. While kids might like to give one-word answers, do your best to engage and draw your child out to know how he or she is really feeling about school.

More tips:

Question 1
What are the signs to watch for to see if children's transition into the school year is affecting them negatively (bullying, loss of confidence, fear of New Year)?

Answer
We want to look for 3 main changes in the children:

Behavior Changes - If the child is usually chatty and now they are quiet; or the reverse: if they are usually quiet and calm and now are more hyper, agitated and more talkative.

Physical Changes - If they are complaining of stomach aches, headaches, or saying they are tired or feel jumpy; or if they cannot fall asleep or have problems waking up.

Social Changes - If they become sullen and isolated when they are usually social and outgoing. If they suddenly stop talking about friends or do not want to play with friends or attend school events, something could be bothering them. This is especially true for bullying - they may try to avoid any place where the bullies may be.

Question 2
What are ways to ease the transition, handle bullies, instill confidence etc.?

Answer
The most important thing is to engage your child. If you are noticing problems, it is not the right time to "sit back and let them work it out." Children need the support and connections from parents. You are not looking to solve all of their problems, but rather to serve as a sounding board, a support and a partner.

Help them vocalize. Guide them to identify their feelings. Whether they are 8 or 18, children tend to respond by saying "nothing" when asked about school. Prompt them by asking specific questions that are open ended rather than those that can be answered with a yes or no such as "How are you feeling about the homework?" "What is this new teacher like?" "How is the homework different than last year?"

Model the right behaviors. If they are verbalizing difficulties in certain areas, share stories of similar ways you have handled situations. For example "I am sorry you are not liking your classmates. I had a similar situation at work once and I found ways to help us work together." Show them, through examples or stories, ways to help problem solve.

Validate and encourage. This is so important especially for young girls who show a drop in self esteem around the age of 9. Validate and respect their feelings at home so they do not look to get those needs met from peers. Encourage them through failures and praise them through their accomplishments.

Provide a safe environment for them to be honest. Holding in feelings and repressing them can lead to anger, depression and anxiety. Allow them the ability to say whatever is on their mind (both rational and irrational) in a safe and welcoming environment. Aim to support and help them without solving their problems for them. The goal is to teach them how to problem solve but also how to live with feelings that may be unpleasant at times. Children need to learn how to feel failures and embrace the positive aspects of trying even if the end result does not work. Too many parents try to shield their children from this.

Seek Help - In cases of extreme anxiety or bullying seek outside help. For stress or anxiety that is harming their daily life they need to seek professional assistance from a coach, therapist or physician. Some fears are normal - but if it is affecting them and altering their normal state, additional help is needed. Look for insomnia, panic attacks, depression, social isolation, staying in one's room for a great deal of time etc.

For Bullying - Approach the school as many have an anti-bully program. School should be a safe environment for every child and they deserve that right. If a bully is preventing education from taking place find a way to respectfully help your child by partnering with the school for ideas and ways to manage the situation.

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ON THE NET: www.goldparentcoaching.com

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