Thursday, August 7, 2014

Is Your Child “Showing You” He’s Stressed about Going Back to School?

How does your child tell you, he’s freaking out about going back to school?  
Some kids make it pretty obvious, but others are a bit more subtle.

Instead of communicating their anxiety verbally, they show it, with behaviors that are annoying and sometimes downright challenging.  It’s easy to miss the connection.  But think about it.

  • Is your son suddenly refusing to do things he was perfectly capable of doing yesterday?  Like going upstairs by himself?  But now is insisting you go with him?  

  • Or, has your daughter suddenly lost the ability to dress herself?  

  • Could you previously walk out the door with the kids barely looking up from their play to say goodbye, but now they’re dashing after you, begging, “Don’t leave me!”  

It’s easy to get caught in the flames of misbehavior.  But discovering the real fuel source is essential for stopping those behaviors.  This time of the year, that “fuel” source is often stress about starting school.  So what behaviors might you see?

Signs of Stress:  

  • Any abrupt change in behavior – and  not for the better
  • Difficulty falling asleep 
  • Suddenly waking in the night and struggling to go back to sleep 
  • Inability to settle or sit still 
  • Not eating 
  • Increased irritability – nothing is “right” 
  • Inability to make decisions 
  • Uptick in frequency and intensity of arguments with siblings and you 
  • Pestering pets
  • Clingy 
  • Unexpected appearance of separation anxiety 
  • Refusal to do things capable of doing – demanding help dressing, eating, walking, falling asleep 
  • Meltdowns over seemingly insignificant things
  • Aggressive 
  • Crabby 
  • Always “hot” 
Every child is different, but your child probably has a few “predictable stress behaviors.”  When you see them, do not get “caught” in the “flames.”  Recognize that the true fuel source is fear and anxiety.  Provide extra support and a gentle nudge and they will get through it.  Here are some tested strategies to ease the way.

Strategies that make it better:  

  • Avoid ignoring emotions or behaviors.  Talk about what you see, hear or feel.  
    • “I see you are not hungry today.  What’s up?  Are you worried about starting school?” 
  • Ask what frightens them about beginning school.  The answers may surprise you.  
    • When Lynn asked the children at Paidea this question their responses included; being sent to the principal’s office, not knowing where the bathroom was or who they would sit with at lunch. Once you understand what’s making them anxious, you can be “problem solvers.” 
  • Visit the school BEFORE classes begin.  
    • Meet the teacher.  Find the locker, lunchroom, bathroom and your child’s desk.  
    • Ask who is in the class so your child knows if he already has a friend in the same room.  
  • Practice walking from the drop-off area into the school.  
    • This can be a frightening experience for slow to warm children.  An opportunity to practice privately makes it much easier on the big day. 
  • Get them on a sleep schedule now, that fits the fall routine.  
    • Dragging a child out of bed, an hour earlier than he’s been rising all summer is not the way to start a new school year.  Sleep deprivation fuels anxiety.  
  • Organize a homework, backpack and dressing space at home.  
  • Find out what the schedule will be at school and make a picture plan so your child knows what to expect. 
  • Be proactive.  
    • Recognize this is a stressful time.  When you are at home, before leaving a room, stop and ask your child if she wants to stay and play or come with you.  If she chooses to come with you, stop and wait for her, and say, “Okay, but soon you’ll be ready to just play, because mom/dad always come back.  
    • The same is true for dressing.  BEFORE your child insists that you help him, ask, “Is today a day you would like help dressing?”  Again, if he says, “yes,”  Respond, “Okay, but, probably tomorrow you’ll be ready to do it yourself again.”  This meets your child’s needs yet gently nudge shim forward, with the expectation that soon, this will be old hat!  

Let us know how it goes!

Next time we’ll explore what you will see, hear and feel in a “good classroom.”

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