Initiating conversations with your child or young person around school anxiety can be difficult, but it is important to start somewhere.
Worries can quickly spiral out of control, making it difficult for some children to adjust to their new school environment and routine.
Signs of anxiety include:
- Refusal to go to school
- Being disagreeable
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Articulating stress through tummy pains and headaches
Simple, open questions make great conversation starters around anxiety.
Consider asking them how they are feeling about starting school and what they think it might be like this year. Remind them that often it helps to talk to someone about things if they are feeling worried.
Emotion coaching your child or young person is important to enable feelings to be named and explored.
This may mean making an observation such as “You look like you feel worried/sad/angry/upset. Is that right? If the answer is yes, follow with a question about what the worry/sadness/anger is about.
It is important to acknowledge these worries by saying something like “I can see why you feel that way” but follow that up with some ideas around resolving their worries by asking “Have you got any ideas about what you could do to manage those feelings? Let me know if you need help coming up with a plan”.
You can encourage your child to develop self-understanding by asking questions that help them to look beneath their emotions.
Questions such as “What has made you feel that way? or “ What thoughts did you have when you made that choice?’’ are useful in prompting your child to think about the underlying cause of their anxiety. In turn, this develops their ability to respond to what is troubling them.
Sometimes talking about expected feelings can be useful. For instance, asking the young person if they expect to feel nervous or worried when they start or return to school, and how they think they might manage that.
Follow up with questions such as “If you do start feeling worried, what is something you can do to make yourself feel better?”
Remember that your goal as a parent is to help your children put together their unique puzzle of feelings and past experiences so that they develop the skills they need to control their emotions and lower their anxiety.