What are normal school jitters and what might be more of a problem?
Being nervous about starting a new school year or doing certain school tasks is normal. You might notice that your child or teen might be talking more about school as it get's closer to the end of a long break, they might be asking you more questions and they might have trouble sleeping right before the event (i.e. first day of school, having to do a presentation or performing in a play). A little anxiety is good, it helps us to prepare for big events (i.e. tests or performances) or helps us to be more alert and stay safe (i.e. looking both ways before we cross the street).
Anxiety becomes a problem when it interferes with our lives. Some examples of how school anxiety can affect children and teens are:
These are just some of the signs and symptoms you might see, but everyone is different and might react differently to their anxiety. It's important to talk to your child or teen and find out what's going on for them. If their anxiety interferes with their enjoyment of school, social interactions or other activities, it might be time to reach out for help.
How can parents help?
As a parent, often your first instinct is to make your child or teen's big feelings go away. As a result we quickly move into problem solving/fixing the problem or trying convince them that they don't need to worry. So my first piece of advice is to resist the instinct to fix and spend more time on empathy and understanding. Children and teens will talk about the problem more if they feel they are understood; and once they feel understood they might be open to problem solving with you. Other things to keep in mind; are they getting enough sleep and eating well, do they have enough quiet time/calm time in their day, how much exercise or fresh air are they getting and do they have some valuable bonding time with family or important adults in their lives? Another consideration would be routine and structure; is there a consistent routine in your home and do your children know what to expect? Consistency and structure can support children to feel more safe and secure.
If you are doing everything you can to support your child or teen and they are still struggling with their anxiety around school reaching out to the school for advice and resources would be a great place to start, you can also reach out to a local mental health specialist.
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