By Guest Blogger Juan Santos M.S., CRC, LCMHC
Returning to the classroom after the summer break can be an anxiety-provoking transition for students. The more prepared our kids are, the better they will be with feeling calm in the classroom and addressing the transition back to school. Parents everywhere connect with a similar concern. That of desiring to learn how to support their kids with the upcoming transition to the in-person classroom.
As a father of a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old, I find myself thinking about what school will be like for them. I have not experienced the academic challenges that they have lived through. I have never had to wear a mask during my K-12 experience or to maintain a 6-foot distance from my school peers. Yet, my kids have.
The 4 strategies below aim to extend beyond standard advice. I hope that from the 4 you can connect to at least one that can be of support for your child. Each of the strategies works to support your child with reducing the severity of their anxiety and aiding them to have a healthy transition when returning to the in-person classroom.
1 – Taking Time to Understand Your Child’s Anxiety
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines anxiety disorder with the symptoms below. As you read over each symptom, take time to explore how it connects to your anxious child.
- Problems focusing on school subjects.
- Difficulty with making decisions. Such as when your child has homework to do and struggles to establish a starting point.
- Problems sleeping due to late-night worry thoughts about problems that took place in the current day or about tomorrow.
- Irregular changes in appetite, such as when your child overeats or doesn’t eat when feeling worried or on edge.
- Feeling worried more days than not.
- Fear of something bad happening such as your child sharing that they are fearful of contracting COVID19.
The purpose of the symptoms listed above is to give you space to learn more about your child’s anxiety. Building self-awareness will help to increase your ability to identify how your child is doing.
For me, I notice that when my daughter is anxious her stomach will hurt. She will say, “my stomach hurts, Daddy” or “I don’t feel good.” I try to take time to hear her and give her space to share how she is feeling. From that point, we work together to connect the symptom of her stomach hurting to the variable provoking it. This process helps her understand her anxiety and as a parent, it helps me to be present for her.
2 – Practicing Compassion
Parents can take time to understand that returning to the in-person classroom can be challenging for kids. The challenge can come in the form of kids fearing to contract COVID19 to the typical struggles of making friends and getting good grades. Parents can practice compassion by giving their kids space to talk about their experiences at school.
For instance, if your child shares nervousness with starting school, take time to give them space to talk about what took place from their perspective versus right away jumping to provide your child with feedback. As your child shares their perspective, use eye contact and provide kindness generously.
This simple practice helps parents learn to provide compassion and in addition give their kids a safe space to talk about their feelings. The act further increases the likelihood that kids continue to share thoughts and feelings with their parents in the future.
3 – Find Space to Check in with Each Other
Take time to create the habit of checking in with your child as a way to develop a strong relationship and to support their return to school.
Below is a system that you can utilize to check in with your child:
Each day take 5 minutes to check in with your child. During the 5 minutes go through a list of questions. If you get through them all great if not, that’s okay.
Questions to explore:
- What was the best part of your day?
- What was the most challenging thing about today?
- Which subject was easy or hard today?
This practice helps your child build on the habit of learning to share their thoughts and feelings versus bottling them up or avoiding them.
4 – Educating Your Child on Their Resources
Take time to educate your child on the resources available to them at school. I remember my wife and me, taking our daughter to open house day for kindergarten. We walked up and down the hallways of the school peeking into different rooms. We talked about the role of the professionals in the school. We talked about the role of the principal, teachers, office administrators, and school counselors. I did this to help her feel confident in her new environment and to know how those around her could be of help.
With your child take time to introduce them to professionals at school such as the school counselor or psychologist. Even if this means that you set up a structured meeting. Use this time to ask questions and establish a meet and greet.
What takes place is that your child will begin to develop trust and rapport with the professionals in the school. As trust and rapport strengthen, your child will feel more comfortable with sharing their ups and downs.
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