Help Children Conquer Back-to-School Stress & Anxiety
“There's a disconnect between what children say they're worrying about and what their parents think is stressing them, a gap that could have long-term implications for children's mental and physical health,” warns the American Psychological Association. (1)
The association says that most children worry about school, grades and money, which causes them upset stomachs, insomnia and headaches. For example, 44% of kids say they can’t sleep because of stress.
Yet interestingly, only 13% of parents think the same thing.
This disconnect means many children are suffering quietly. As a parent, or as someone who loves the children in your life, the back-to-school season can be a great season to tune in to how your children are doing. It’s the perfect season to broach these topics and start to give them the tools to talk about their emotional and mental health.
1. Talk About Stress
For many children, depending on how old they are, they may not have the full vocabulary to explain what they’re feeling. This is a learning moment to help your children distinguish the difference between healthy levels of pressure and actual stress. If they can’t distinguish between trying hard to achieve a goal, and the pressure that comes with that, and actual stress, they may treat any pressure-associated moment as actual stress.
2. Teach Them to Be Present
It’s never too early to teach children to be mindful. Remind children to be aware of their thoughts, and whether those thoughts are grounded in the present or projecting into the future with fear and anxiety. For example, if you have an older teen child who may feel a crushing amount of stress about getting into college, remind him or her to simply focus on what’s right in front of them, whether that’s a specific exam or writing an essay. Focusing on the actual task, and not thinking about the looming bigger picture, can help ease a lot of anxiety.
3. Keep Things in Perspective
In many children’s minds, it’s all or nothing. Something like a school project or passing a college entrance exam can feel like the biggest deal of their lives. Some parents try to minimize it by saying, “That’s no big deal.” Yet you, and your child, know that that’s simply not true. And it does nothing to ease the stress of the realities of life.
Instead, help your child re-frame something in a healthier perspective. This is an important project/test/exam/experience, and they should try hard, but if it doesn’t go as planned, the reality of their health, their love and their place in the family does not change. Life will continue to go on, whether they ace all their goals or stumble a few times.
4. Help Them Feel Confident in Their Self Worth
A lot of back-to-school and school-related stress and anxiety comes when children attach their self-worth and their inner sense of value on things like academic performance or social status and popularity. Validate their inherent self-worth in terms of who they ARE, not what they do or what others think of them.
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