Learning Points: Top tips on coping with back to school stress for you and the kids

Learning Points: Top tips on coping with back to school stress for you and the kids

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.

  • What should I do if my child is anxious about returning to school?

  • 1.Talk calmly to your child about their anxiety. Try to ascertain the root of the issue. Make sure you listen to them in a supportive way. Do not judge or jump to conclusions about the issue. If you become anxious, you will only further increase your child’s anxiety. Your reaction is very important. Try to help them problem solve the issue. If the cause of their anxiety is another student, try to help them figure out how they can manage that relationship. I find role-playing with students very effective for learning skills in dealing with someone they have a negative relationship with. Show them how to respond to a bully in a non-provocative way.
  • 2. Do not allow all conversations to be dominated by the issue. Nothing gives oxygen to an issue more than allowing it to dominate every interaction. Set aside some time in the day and then do not speak about it again. By doing this, you show your child that the issue isn’t as all-consuming as they believe.
  • 3. Often students are caught trying to be perfect and this places huge pressure on them. Help them manage this and figure out who it is are they trying to impress.
  • 4. Make sure your child knows that back to school doesn’t mean the death of gaming — it simply means that gaming and school must now peacefully co-exist. Work out a sensible timetable for gaming in the school week. Include your child in the drafting of the timetable.
  • 5. Model how to cope with anxiety. I find this a very important strategy for children dealing with anxiety. Let them see how you cope with anxiety in your life.
  • 6. Contact the school. They are a huge resource for you. A joint approach to your child’s anxiety will ensure the best outcome. Every child experiences anxiety from time to time — do not feel ashamed that you reached out to the school for help.

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 info@richardhogan.ie

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