With summer winding down and children going to school this month, many kids will experience anxiety. Here is some advice on how parents can help children adjust to their new school year.
Some children process change well and should easily adjust to school, while others may find it more difficult, according to Dr. Ben Miller, director of the Farley Health Policy Center (FHPC) at UC Medical Center & Mental Health Colorado board member.
“If the child is experiencing stress in multiple settings, like school, church, friendships, teams, clubs, or everyday activities such as getting a haircut, there can be cause for concern,” says Miller.
He says parents need to engage with their child and check in with others who interact with them on a regular basis including teachers, coaches, church-group supervisors and club leaders.
“Kids express energy and enthusiasms in different ways,” says Shale Wong, Pediatrician, and Director of Child Health Policy and Education at FHPC. “Some children express themselves in a high-energy, outgoing manner, while others are completely internal. If something is bothering them, they do not necessarily know how to say it.”
In this case, Wong advises looking for other clues including changes in appetite or sleep habits, or an unexplained illness, which can also be a manifestation of stress.
Miller says parents sometimes can get to the root of a problem by asking their child to create drawings to illustrate what they are feeling.
“The worst thing we can do as parents is avoidance,” says Miller.
“Children need to develop coping skills, and encouraging avoidance of stressful situations and the causes of anxiety limits the ability to develop these mechanisms.” He warns that parents should watch out for changes in behavior showing avoidance. This could include an unwillingness to go to school.
Miller and Wong agree that dinner table conversation can play an important role in fleshing out situations that may be causing stress. They recommend asking children what was the best thing about their day. This can open up conversation and make them more willing to talk about things they may be concerned with.
“If you feel there is a problem, engage the child’s community – school, church, afterschool activities – start there,” says Wong.
If your child is experiencing medical problems, visit a pediatrician. The unintended consequence of visit to the doctor could be finding out about something non-medical underlying the child’s physical complaint, according to Miller.
“In healthcare, we tend to overcomplicate it (children and stress). Go to the community and talk to the people who see your child every day,” says Miller.
David Cogger is a Freelance writer for Mental Health Colorado.