Before the Bell: Overcome Back-to-school Fear - NECN

Before the Bell: Overcome Back-to-school Fear

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Tips to help students reduce anxiety, stress before the new school year (Published Friday, Jan. 17, 2014)

    (NECN) - Getting ready to head back to the classroom can stirs feelings of excitement...and anxiety.

    Often times, the start of the new school year means a new school, new teacher, and new classmates.

    Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.
    The disorder is very treatable, and there are many short term effective treatments out there for parents and kids.

    Dr. Donna Pincus, Director of the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University, joined "The Morning Show" to share tips to help children enjoy the excitement about starting the next school year.

    Dr. Pincus shared the following signs to help determine if anxiety is the problem. 

    Normal feelings
    · Most children feel excitement and some fear about school-normal emotions
    · New routines take some time to adjust to for adults and kids, the unknown can be a little nerve wracking for anyone
    · Normal thoughts: 
    o Will I be able to find locker?
    o Will I make friends in my class?
    o Will my teacher be nice?
    o Will I get a lot of homework?
    · Normal physical feelings such as butterflies in stomach

    We can teach kids to appreciate the newness, adventure, and to focus on the excitement of the start of school

    Signs of significant anxiety
    · Worry that interferes with enjoying end of summer
    · Excessive reassurance seeking
    · Physical complaints
    o Headaches
    o Stomachaches
    o Difficulty Sleeping
    · Clinginess
    · Tearfulness
    · Irritability/tantrums
    · Negative thoughts about school- assuming the worst will happen
    · School avoidance - in most extreme cases

    For many kids, these feelings go away after an initial adjustment period of a few weeks, but if a child appears overly preoccupied with worries about school and it is interfering with his/her life, it is time to consult a professional.

    Some more of Dr. Pincus' advice:

    - Listen and normalize: Listen to child's fears, acknowledge their fears, normalize their feelings. 

    - Investigate fears: Help your child separate what is a "worry thought" or an unrealistic thought from what is more likely to happen

    - Prepare: Help kids get back into a school sleep routine with gradually earlier bedtimes, calm, consistent sleep routine, good diet. Take kids on a trip to their school- check out the playground, maybe take a tour of the school, find locker together and have child practice opening it. Schedule play dates with school friends to reestablish connections

    - Model confidence: Kids pick up on our feelings and expectations-Express your positive expectations that the child will have a good year.

    - Teach your child important coping skills: Teach child how to calm/relax their bodies so they can focus. Break down fears into smaller steps, and praise kids for facing their fears even though difficult

    - Remember you are not alone! If problems at school persist for your child after prolonged periods of time, seek professional help= talk with a teacher, nurse, counselor, social worker, psychologist for guidance to investigate the underlying issues contributing to your child's anxiety.

    Ways to avoid making the anxiety worse:

    - While it is fine to lovingly reassure kids that school will be fine, don't overdo it.  

    - Find ways to reduce stress in your own life- parents can often develop a good support system of other parents/families through schools, who can help in times of stress.

    - If your anxiety is getting in the way of your parenting, seek professional help for yourself--this will also help your child.