Ease your kids’ back-to-school nerves by helping them be more brave.
With school right around the corner, so are the back-to-school jitters. For your kids, sometimes those jitters are more than just nerves. Instead, they can extend to social anxiety and panic. As parents, we don’t always know how to help.
Studio 5 Relationship Contributor Dr. Matt Townsend shares ways we can help minimize our child’s back to school fears.
Find more advice from Matt at www.matttownsend.com.
Help Others to Be More Brave, Not Less Afraid
- Anxiety is an issue that many will have to deal with their entire life, just understand one conversation won’t fix it.
- Show your child that no matter what happens they are “lovable, capable, they belong and they are safe.”
- Help them to know that we are all in this together. This is a process you want to do with the person not for them. You may even see that they are hesitant to go through these activities with you…because to find the answers to these questions means they’ll inevitably need to face their fears.
- Be calm as you deal with someone facing anxiety. Anxiety begets anxiety so many times the least anxious parent is better at this process than the most anxious parent.
- See the goal as 1% improvement every day. Not 20% improvement every day.
- Anxiety many times is an emotional maturity practice not a chemical thing.
- Remember it’s not yours to solve…it’s theirs so don’t rob them of the lessons to learn how to manage their emotions.
- Don’t feel a need to quickly fix the problem either. People tend to be less open to help if they feel like you’re there to fix them.
- Your job is to simply walk by their side currently
- “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” — John Wayne
- and show them how to feel stronger.
- Our goal is not decreasing anxiety…It’s increasing courage.
Explore Emotions Not Stories
- Discuss how they are feeling. Try to get them to put words on their emotions and use their words.
- The fear is the real problem not the stories they make up about the fear.
- Watch out for asking “why” they feel some way. That will bring up more stories about hypothetical fears which will just create more issues to address. In the end there is one problem we’re looking at here…their worry or anxiety.
- Don’t feel a need to quickly fix the problem either. It’s better to help them to understand themselves and how they feel before we get into the “why” or reasons behind the emotions.
- Help them understand that some feel anxious about school and others are excited. Same feelings, just different interpretations.
- Sympathize with them by showing examples of where you personally felt this type of anxiety or worry in your life.
- Try to get them talking about what the worries feel like? Try to talk more about the emotions, the feelings, first to help them clarify the emotions.
- Normalize the feelings by talking openly and be vulnerable.
- Just sit in the worry with them, feel it. Ask them where they feel the worry in their body.
The Goal: Help the to get comfortable feeling emotions of worry and anxiety and that they are perfectly normal to feel such things. Make sure that they feel like they are lovable, capable, they belong and are safe.
Go Back and Up to Move Forward
- The past is a wonderful place to find solutions for how to handle our present stressors. The problem is that when humans are stressed, they only go back to move down into the negative experiences they want to avoid in the future. The key is to look back and up…where things worked. Then to use those ideas to move forward.
- Once we know the emotions that these people are feeling ask them to talk about where they have felt similar feelings on other issues especially in the past (try to find examples of issues where they had anxiety at first but overcame it and now it’s not a problem).
- Counter our present negativity with yesterday’s success. This is easier if we are not hung up on specific fears like “the teacher will get mad at me” if the child doesn’t have enough experience with teachers. You may need to focus on the emotion of people getting mad at them and go back and find examples where they effectively handled someone getting mad at them.
- Our goal isn’t to talk them out of feeling anxious, it’s to help them remember the principles they’ve used in the past to conquer their fears.
- You can also influence them by taking a serious inventory of everything that happened positively last year. Take that person back to their anxious first day and review how it felt the next week, month, and the rest of the year.
- Show that the first of everything is different and, in the end, we overcame the weirdness of newness dozens of times In our life. Identify the first time they we nervous to jump into a pool and they overcame it. Or the first time that they had to go in the carpool and now they don’t even worry about that.
- Identify times when they were afraid to do something and show them how they overcame that feeling of insecurity.
Build a Playbook of What Works
- When your kid gets home have a discussion of everything that worked. Tell them we want to build a playbook of Everything that works from the past, the present and the future.
- You’ve already identified how they’ve overcome emotions in the past with what you covered in the assignment above.
- Now identify what worked today to manage emotions.
o Have them identify situations today that they felt anxious and overcame it. Or mad and kept their cool. Every day we want to be able to identify at least three times that they conquered, managed or went with their emotions in healthier ways.
o Get out a piece of paper and intentionally write down everything that was positive that worked in school today. (ie…Did saying hello to the friends work? Did they ask the question to the teacher? How did it go? What did they learn?
o What did they notice worked for others in the class that they might want to try?
Plan For Tomorrow Using Your strengths
- In reviewing everything in the past try to come up with 5 strengths that your child is naturally good at. Together come up with their top 5 strengths that they are going to use
- Think character strengths. Things like kind, funny, supportive, happy, patient, grateful, hardworking, honest, caring, positive, careful, creative, curious, loving, caring, spiritual, etc..
- Help your children to practice their biggest strengths every day. Invite them to practice using their top strengths in everything they do. At the end of the day ask them to give you examples of where they used their strengths to help others.
- Set a plan and tomorrow we’ll follow up on it again and keep building the plan of what works