Written by eM Life
Back to School Time is Here
Summer vacation: To children, it seems like a nearly endless break when they can spend time with family, enjoy unstructured play time, socialize with friends, and savor summertime freedom from the rigors of school schedules and classroom demands. Returning back to school each fall brings changes for both children and parents. While many children are thrilled at the thought of a new school year, some experience anxiety.
While some degree of anxiety is normal and to be expected during times of change, back to school time can quickly ramp up a child’s worries and concerns. As children mentally prepare for a new school year, parents can offer their support in the form of mindful parenting – the practice of bringing moment-to-moment awareness to interactions with your child.
Different Worries for Every Age Group
Children entering school for the first time may fear being away from mom and dad. Having to ride away on a school bus with “strangers” to an unknown, new environment is difficult for many. Those students in primary grades may worry about what teacher they’ll get, whether they will be able to understand and learn what’s being taught, and whether they’ll fit in.
According to Scholastic.com, middle school, perhaps the most trying period of K-12 education, challenges children on many fronts. Some students fear they won’t find their way around a new school; that they’ll be unable to find their lockers, and be late getting to the classroom; that they will no longer be with friends they had in primary grades; that they will “stand out” and be seen as different from other kids.
Returning to high school adds its own set of anxiety-producing worries. Because children are now more mature, students are expected to take on greater responsibility for their own academic success. Many fear having harder classes, too much or too difficult homework. Even students who have scored well in the past may worry whether they’ll be able to make the grade with new subjects and new teachers. Social issues — Will I fit in? Who will be my friends? Who will I eat lunch with? — can quickly produce anxiety. Being ostracized or bullied only complicates the prospect of going back to school.
How Parents Can Help
Whether your child is starting preschool or kindergarten for the first time, or returning to school once again this fall, you can help them deal with the unwanted feeling of anxiety through mindful parenting techniques. Mindful parenting is the practice of being present with your child, bringing an attitude of curiosity and kindness – tuning into what is important. See below for a list of techniques you can practice with your child anytime they appear anxious.
Acknowledge the Anxiety
Many of us—children included—spend long hours ruminating and worrying about negative and fearful things in our lives. Worrying about what might go wrong and expecting past negative experiences to resurface in our future lives both contribute to anxiety.
When you notice your child is anxious consider how your presence can help. During times of anxiety parents can tune into their child and listen to what their child has to say about their feelings. Parents can then help their child understand that anxiety is natural and it’s normal to experience it at every age and stage of life. The opportunity of being there with your child as they acknowledge their anxiety can be a time for connection and open discussion.
Take a Deep Breath Together
We’ve all heard the advice, “Take a deep breath.” We don’t normally think much about our breathing just as we don’t think about how we digest our food. It’s something that just happens. However, deep breathing, known in the literature as diaphragmatic breathing, reduces the stress hormone cortisol and gives you a powerful tool to reduce the effects of anxiety on your back to school son or daughter.
Consider practicing deep breathing together. Modeling this behavior not only helps your child pause in the moment, it also allows you to teach them a new skill, a skill they can use anytime – even when you’re not around. Get started now, watch a simple breathing exercise with Dr. Elisha Goldstein on eM Life.
Make Room for Gratitude
Once the anxiety is acknowledged parents can open the door for reminding their child of the positive things in life. The reassurance of being loved, cared for and the beautiful qualities that make your child special. Even consider discussing the fun aspects of returning back to school. Parents can start the discussion of gratitude by thanking their child for sharing their anxiety with them. Consider how reassuring it can be to remember you are loved and appreciated. Bask in the moment with your child and together discuss the things that make you happy.
Hug It Out!
Even though your teen may not be into hugging mom or dad, sometimes a hug is exactly what’s needed. It’s a reminder that your love is unconditional. Many studies show that a good twenty-second hug has powerful effects on anxiety. Dr. Joseph Mercola explains it well when he notes that Hugging increases levels of the “love hormone” oxytocin, which is beneficial for stress levels, heart health, and more.
Stress caused by anxiety causes harmful physical effects upon heart rate and blood pressure, while even a short twenty-second hug reduces those effects. A ten-second hug can boost one’s immune system, and both parties to the hug benefit.
Sing to Relieve Anxiety
Yes, scores of scientific studies show that singing together increases oxytocin, sometimes called the “feel good hormone,” and serotonin, a neurotransmitter. One such study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience by neuroscientists at the Western Michigan University demonstrated that singing reduces the stress-related hormone ACTH in the bloodstream.
Does your child have a favorite song? Sing it together whenever your son or daughter has feelings of anxiety. Singing can not only break your child’s stressful thoughts, it can also be an act of bonding while releasing helpful chemical changes – feel good hormones.
Hint: Combine your hug with a song to get even more noticeable results. You will probably find the combination works better than either act alone.
These five techniques discussed give us clear evidence that what we pay attention to, and how we attend to it, makes a difference. Learning to become aware of anxious thoughts and feelings, and developing the skills to manage anxiety, can help your child approach challenges with greater resilience now…and for the rest of their life.
Explore eM Life and learn how simple lifestyle changes can make a difference for not just you but your family too!
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Also published on Medium.