As a child, August holds the promise of magical nights catching lightning bugs in the back yard and toasting marshmallows over the the bonfire; days spent by the pool, living on ice cream and popsicles and soaking up sunshine in those last glorious days before school starts again.
But what if going back to school brought not just an end to those lazy hazy days of summer, but extreme anxiety? What if, as a child, those August days brought fear, low self esteem, sleepless nights worrying about grades, bus rides, bullying, and not fitting in?
For a child with anxiety, ADHD, depression, trauma or bullying, returning to school might be a tough and tumultuous time. The good new is: It doesn’t have to be.
One of the most important things that an adult can do for a child is to listen. Sometimes the message is clear. “Mom, I can’t sleep because I’m so nervous about going back to school.” Sometimes the message is hidden, “Dad, my tummy hurts when we talk about going back to school.” Sometimes the message is confused, “Grandma I hate those new crayons you gave me.” But no matter how your child communicates the message, it’s important to listen.
3 Tips for Better Listening:
- Silence is your best friend. Listen quietly and REALLY LISTEN. Don’t plan what you are going to say next, don’t be distracted by your phone or the TV and don’t butt in or cut your child off. Let your child finish his thought and then count to 3 to consider your response and to be sure he is really finished.
- Keep the conversation judgment free. Don’t blame your child or make her feel bad for anything she has said. Validate your child’t feelings, by helping her to understand that whatever she is feeling, it’s ok. You might say something like “I’m proud of you for telling me this,” or “It’s good to talk about how you’re feeling.” Avoid minimizing emotions; don’t say things like “everybody feels that way,” “don’t worry about it,” or “I know just how you feel.”
- Ask open ended questions and don’t make assumptions. Avoid yes or no questions such as “Are you scared to go back to school?” These questions assume an emotion and might lead to a misunderstanding. Try an open ended question such as “When you think about going back to school, what things do you think about?” “When you’re laying in bed at night, what does your brain think about?” “When you think about riding the school bus, what things do you like about it” or “what things do you not like about it.”
If you feel like the level of stress, fear, anger or anxiety about returning to school is more than you can handle, remember, it’s OK to ask for help. Pediatric mental health professionals are trained to be detectives to help kids figure out what they are feeling, and to help them figure out healthy ways to deal with those emotions.
If you think your child would benefit from holistic mental health services, please give Wildflower Holistic Psychiatry a call today to schedule an appointment. 234.208.5772