Kids can have real worries about starting school. Attending school may be the first time your child experiences clear pressure to do well.
As a parent, you can respond to signs of anxiety by talking to your child about school concerns and make time to listen when kids want to talk - review your child's worries one at a time and help them problem solve so they don't become overwhelmed.
The following strategies help children overcome anxiety as they return to school.
1 Overcome Physical Symptoms
It is hard to think if the body is stressed. Help your child to use calming strategies like mindfulness or breathing exercises. Slowing their breathing can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger and confusion. Useful apps to help control breathing include Smiling Mind (iOS and Android) or Breathing Bubbles (Android only).
2 Avoid Avoidance
Anxiety increases when a child avoids eye contact, refuses to raise his/her hand to answer a question or refuses to attend school. So the most effective way to deal with social anxiety might be to face it. Allow your child to have small experiences of social success – give their opinion to one person, start a conversation with someone they know – so they can learn to feel safe in these social situations.
3 Have a Change of Mindset
Fear and anxiety are normal and benefit us by helping us to respond efficiently to danger. However, providing overwhelming social experiences may lead to overwhelming fear and failure, and may make anxiety sufferers less likely to try again - or at all. Start small and build their courage.
4 Provide Support
While you want to support your child by providing them with comfort and encouragement – ensure you also encourage them to face the fears that cause the anxiety. You cannot promise negative things won’t happen. It is possible your child will be embarrassed or be judged. Rather than trying to avoid these events, try reframing them. Remember that we all experience negative social feedback, and this does not make you silly or of less value. It makes you normal. Or, rather than seeing it as embarrassing, maybe it can be funny. Remember it is the “perception” that something is a threat – not the reality. Reasoning with your child to help them see your perspective may not change theirs. This reality only changes with positive real experiences.
5 Talk about Bullying
Bullying at school is a serious problem and can, in extreme cases, result in injury or even death. If you suspect that your child is being bullied, reassure your child that you and the teacher will support him or her. Follow up on any action taken and remain involved in the decision making process. Check in often with your son or daughter about how things are going. Keep in mind children may be reluctant to talk due to fear of embarrassment or further harm.
Any recent prolonged absence from school may have increased social anxiety. Children avoiding what they fear can make their fear become greater. Remind your child that what we think is truth is often revealed as untrue when we face our fears. There is joy in social situations. Keep turning up to them.
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