It’s that time of year again; the long summer days are numbered, summer’s lease is all too short as she takes her last few breaths. We are now firmly back in the season of lunches, uniforms, books, and following a regimented timetable. Yes, the season of back to school has commenced.
Social media is busy this time of year as we’re inundated with witty portrayals of overly jubilant parents preparing to get rid of their kids out from under their jaded feet. But the reality can be something far starker and more challenging than Facebook would have us believe.
For many parents, back to school means back to anxiety and worry — especially when the child in question has had a difficult time during the previous year. So parents often come to dread back to school as it provokes so much tension in the household.
Returning to school can trigger a range of emotions for children. It seems that more children are suffering from anxiety than ever before. The statistics are quite frightening. I have been struck by the dramatic increase in school refusal over the last number of years.
It has often left me perplexed, because schools have never been more child-centred and teachers are far more understanding of mental health than in previous generations. So I have often found myself wondering why this generation of students are finding school so challenging and problematic.
Of course, the easy target would be technology. And certainly technology has impacted sleeping patterns and motivation to attend school. And also if a student has an issue with another student, ubiquitous internet connection means that issue is no longer confined to the school playground, as social media can mean a child is always within the grasp of another child.
Therefore, technology has definitely impacted students’ experience of school. However, I often question if children are receiving the appropriate coping skills during their formative years, because it seems that when they meet a challenge in school, they do not have the tools to help them manage the issue and they collapse under the weight of it.
Anxiety manifests itself when what is being demanded of the child exceeds their resilience. Think of it like this — one child isn’t born with more resilience than another; they learn it through their formative years.
If a child constantly had anxiety-provoking moments taken from them while they were growing up they would never learn the skills needed to manage stress when it appears in their adolescent life. So don’t fear anxiety. See it as an opportunity to teach your child how to manage it for life.
Back to school can be such a challenging time for the whole family. This year, view it as an opportunity to help your child develop the skills that he or she will need to overcome adversity.
Richard Hogan is clinical director of therapyinstitute.ie, a school teacher, systemic family psychotherapist, and father of three. If you have a question, contact firstname.lastname@example.org