7  Ways You Can Help Your Child Have A Good Experience Going Back To School This Year
This month brings an end to the summer fun and for many of us, back-to-school time. This year is no doubt going to be different as some of us will participate in homeschooling for the first time, some will do remote learning online, and some will do in-person learning with new rules and requirements. There will be lots of adjusting and lots of processing of BIG emotions.
When our kids experience anxiety, it’s natural for us parents to go into protection mode. We may attempt to solve problems for them, help avoid triggers, and/or try to engineer a worry-free environment. While there are certain accommodations that teachers are going to try to implement to help our kids in the classroom, it’s a good idea to slow down the daily pace for the first month or so to decrease overall stress for anxious children. We can't protect their kids from experiencing anxiety, but we can help them learn to manage their anxiety.

Set Clear Expectations

Setting clear expectations and helping your child create appropriate benchmarks to meet those expectations teaches your child that she/he can work through anxious feelings and manage their anxiety. It might also be helpful to proceed at a slower pace right now and make some accommodations as kids go back to school with all the changes that are likely happening where you are.

Many teachers and other school personnel may be wearing masks, as well as other students. There might be some separation of the desks or other new and different things happening in class and during school time. Recess and lunch time will look different. EVERYTHING will be shifting around here and there so having clear expectations helps kids feel like they have some kind of control over their environment.

Let Your Child Process Their Emotions With You...don't try to fix it for them mama.

No kid ever stopped worrying because mom said, “Don’t worry!”, or “Relax!”. In fact, it's really helpful for kids to be able to voice their concerns out loud so they can process through them. Give your child uninterrupted time with you each day to vent worries and brainstorm solutions together.

As parents, we hate to see our kids struggle, but fixing everything for them or finding their solutions for them, doesn't do them any good. Giving them a chance to come up with their own solutions will set them for success and teach them great problem solving skills.

Talk About The Elephant In The Room

It won't help if you try to avoid their big emotions, or things that might trigger those emotions. If your child gets nervous or fearful around dogs, for example, crossing the street every time you come across a dog on a walk, or staying away from all dogs will only validate that anxious thought. It sends the message that all dogs are dangerous, and you might not even realize it. It’s better to desensitize your child to triggers of anxiety by taking small steps. Try looking at pictures of different breeds online and talking about what feelings come up or how cute they might be or whatever comes up for your child. Maybe you could watch dogs at play at a dog park (from a safe distance) or even ask to visit with a calm, older dog of a friend. By taking small steps, kids can learn to work through their fears and worries. And the more we teach them to do these things for themselves, the more empowered they feel. 

Flip The Script

When we get into an anxious or negative thought cycle, we become overwhelmed because it causes feelings of helplessness. This same thing happens with our children. Getting stuck in the “what if” and “I can't” mindset can cause what I call black-and-white thinking. When you're in this mindset, things are either fantastic or we're all going to hell in a hand-basket. There is no in-between and it can go from amazing to the worst case scenario in 10 seconds flat. Creating time to work on positive re-framing of things empowers your child to feel more in control and learn to do this for themselves any time they need to -whether you're there or not. It looks something like this:

  1. Name a worry, or negative thought floating around in your brain right now.
  2. What is the thought telling you about yourself or the situation?
  3. Let’s break it down and see if that thought is 100% right.
  4. How can we take that thought and shift it into a positive thought?

For example, your child tells you that they are afraid that the kids in their class don’t like them. Why do they feel this way? Because a girl in class laughed when they didn’t know the answer, and now they are scared that the other kids in class think they're dumb. Help them break down the reality of the situation: “I answer questions in class every day. I sit with friends at lunch and I play with my friends at recess.” Now we can shift the situation: “It hurt my feelings when the girl laughed, but I have other good friends and people who like me in my class.”

Help Them Build a Coping Kit

If you want to empower your child to work through their worries on their own, help them learn a variety of coping skills and give them other tools to put into their 'tool box'. Practice these tools with them during times that they are calm and all is well. That way, when they begin to feel scared, anxious, etc, they already have the muscle memory in place and can easily put their tools into practice.

These are some that we use in my house:

  •  Deep breathing to recenter yourself and slow down your heart rate and breathing.
  •  Shift your attention by asking yourself what you see, smell, taste, touch, hear. It sounds something like this, “I can see the birds in trees around me and flying in the sky. I can hear their pretty songs as they perch on the branches. I can smell the warm summer air and freshly cut grass. I can taste the hard candy I just put in my mouth. It's smooth against my tongue. I can feel the touch of the seams of my jeans and how the stitches are bumpy in the edges of the material.”  
  • Stress ball, or even hitting a pillow when energies are too high and them need to move their body to get the energy out of them. 
  • Write it out in a journal and then either burn it or keep it for later to go back and see progress. Remember, that their journal is private and sacred. They deserve to know and trust that no one will read it – not even you.
  •  Shift  the thoughts from lack and negative into positive and empowering. “I can't tie my shoes yet. I'm so dumb!” can be shifted to, “I am learning to tie my shoes and the more I practice, the easier it will be. Pretty soon, I'll tie my shoes like a pro!”
  • Get help from an adult – Allow them to come to you with their big emotions. It's not our job to immediately begin trying to solve their problem or lecture them with what they 'should be doing' etc. I know we've been taught that's what makes a great parent, but it's actually not helpful at all and is actually very dis-empowering. Allow them to tell you their worries and then help them find ways to work through it using the tools above or any others that you find work for you.     

Basic Foundations

Your anxious child doesn’t need to play every sport and attend every party. Allow him to create his world in a way that feels safe and empowering – even if it's different than what you would do. Remember, your child is not an extension of you. He is his own person with his own thoughts, needs, and emotions. Below are some good foundational things that will help a fearful/anxious child feel safe and in control of their life.

  • Get enough sleep and be consistent. Going to bed and getting up at the same times every day really help anxious kids who need more routine-type structure than others. 
  • Eating healthy foods will help fuel their body and mind. Supplements, vitamins, minerals, and essential oils will help balance and regulate energy levels and focus.

  • Drink enough water throughout the day. Most kids don't drink nearly enough water and are dehydrated most of the time.

  • Create downtime to decompress. Create time to calm down and relax before     bedtime so they can transition into it easier.

  •  Allow them to move their body and be outdoors as much as possible. Fresh air and sunshine are so good for all of us. Did you know that fresh air and sunshine actually shift the chemicals in your brain and help you feel more centered and happy? Pretty cool huh!

  •  Meditation is a fantastic tool for kids to learn to regulate their emotions. They learn to feel more connected with the earth and their inner knowing and feel more empowered in decision making.

Empathize Often

Anxiety can be paralyzing for young children. When kids feel completely overwhelmed by anxious thoughts, they struggle to do everyday things like attend school or go to soccer practice; they struggle to focus and follow directions. Anxious children even avoid fun things like play dates and movies because they're afraid of getting even more overwhelmed – even though they might really want to go. It’s important to empathize with your child. This normalizes what they're going through and helps them understand that they aren’t alone, and you will guide them through it. For a child to know that their parent deals with anxious emotions and fears, helps them see that it's okay and they can control it when they see you control it.

Final tip: Take care of your own needs too. Parenting an anxious child can be all-consuming. Between interrupted sleep and constant worries, child anxiety can take a toll on you too. Make sure to prioritize your own health needs and take care of you first so you can be fully present and help your child learn to manage their anxiety. Yes, you need to take care of you FIRST so you're in a good place to be able to support them.

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2 drops bergamot
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1 drop lavender
Distilled Water
4oz. fine mist spray bottle ( you can get one here)

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