Starting a new school year brings inevitable change which can fuel anxiety in children. Anxiety in and of itself is normal and exists to protect us from perceived harm or threats. Showing kids support when they are feeling anxious can be a good way to let them know that we care about them and how they are feeling, which encourages them to continue to open up about their feelings.
So how do I know if my child is anxious?
Kids may not have the emotional vocabulary to label their feelings and may express their feelings through behaviors instead. Below are some common behaviors in kids that may indicate anxiety under the surface:
Increased temper tantrums and/or acting-out behaviors
Sleep or appetite disruptions
Somatic symptoms–headaches, stomach aches, or even vomiting or diarrhea
How do I help my child with their anxiety?
The first step in helping your child cope with anxiety is recognizing it yourself and helping them recognize it too. You might ask them, “How are you feeling about going back to school?” or “Does anything feel scary or worrisome about it?”. Once you have identified they are experiencing anxiety, it’s important to then:
Listen. Before jumping in with a solution, be sure to lend a listening ear. Having a safe person to talk about their feelings with will go a long way.
Validate. Say things like “I can understand why you’d feel nervous” or “It makes sense to feel anxious about starting a new year.” This helps them understand that their feelings are normal and understandable.
Ask open-ended questions. Ask, “What can I do to help you with this anxiety?” instead of saying “Don’t worry about it!”
Problem solve if appropriate. You may want to consider making a helpful adjustment like allowing them to bring a comfort object to school.
Typically, the nerves associated with starting a new school year will fade on their own after the first week or so. If your child’s anxiety is preventing them from going to school or does not seem to get better shortly after returning, therapy may be a good option.
Find Your Shine offers individual counseling for kids ages 7 and up. FYS also has an adolescent DBT skills group that gives youth tools for managing anxiety (learn more here findyourshinetherapy.com/dbt-group-therapy).