How to Support Children with School Anxiety

Sunday is a day of dread for many parents and kids this time of year. Coming off the weekend, headed into another school week, anxieties amplify. Kids cry, can’t fall asleep, develop nausea and make threats like they’re never going back to school. Parents feel sick, angry and nervous themselves.

In my opinion, there is nothing more futile than trying to make an anxious or scared person NOT be anxious or scared.

But there are some things that seem to help.

  • Technology tends to disrupt the ability to fall asleep. For teens, it can become an addictive way to escape and medicate anxiety. So have a tech off time about an hour before bed. Also figure out your family technology policy.
  • Have consistent bedtime routines and times.
  • Listen. Use reflective listening and allow your child to talk about what they are feeling. DON’T try to correct, fix or talk them out of their feelings. Just ask open ended questions and repeat what you hear. Feelings tend to pass more quickly when they are expressed.
  • Show healthy detachment. Your child’s feelings are not your feelings. Anxiety, fear is just a feeling. By itself, the feeling is not dangerous. It can’t hurt them. Be empathetic but avoid falling apart yourself!
  • If they are school avoidant, don’t let them stay home! The work to get them back to school will often be much more difficult than just keeping them in. Let them know your boundary “School is not optional. I’m only comfortable with you staying home if you have a fever or you’re vomiting.”
  • You can also let them know they can be scared AND go to school. You can have a negative feeling but still behave in the expected manner.

Like everything I share, these are things that I find helpful. They may not fit every child or every family. So just take what fits for you, leave the rest.

I want to encourage all parents to know that you should do what feels comfortable for you in your home with your kids. So if you read lists like this and start to feel guilty, DON’T! If you allow a free reign in technology because that’s what you have to do to get through the week,

You ARE NOT alone! If you don’t have a good bedtime routine, guess what, so do lots of other people. If you let your anxious child stay home, guess what, so have I! Even knowing it’s not “best practice” some days circumstances require something different.

So if you’re struggling and don’t know where to start, try these! If you know these things and you need to do better, ok, great!

If your child’s anxiety seems dangerous, causes symptoms of panic, is constant instead of situational, seeking professional help is a great next step.

Be a Container, not a Director

Containers hold things. Containers have boundaries. Containers are strong, predictable, and comforting.

From a mom who spent lots of years trying to fix and direct, this shift has been most transformational.

– TRICIA THOMPSON

How do parents help their children develop that strong sense of self?

One way is to shift from being a director or fixer to being a container.

Containers hold things. As a parent you can be a safe place for your child to share and explore their feelings. Listen, reflect and repeat what you hear back to them. Instead of jumping in with solutions or your point of view. Just be a container.

Containers have boundaries. They hold things and they keep things safely inside firm boundaries. So instead of lectures, solutions, deal making, arguing, nagging learn how to set a boundary. “If you are going to scream, you’ll have to do that in your room.” “If you don’t get a 3.0 on your report card, I’ll be unable to pay your car insurance.” Set the boundary and stick to it.

Containers are strong, predictable, and comforting. Kids learn to be okay with their feelings. They learn that uncomfortable feelings are part of life and they can tolerate them. They learn that you trust them to handle uncomfortable things. Kids build belief in themselves and an inner strength that has nothing to do with pleasing others. It has to do with being themselves.

From a mom who spent lots of years trying to fix and direct, this shift has been transformational.

Why Parents Should Stop Trying To “Fix” Homework Anxiety

Homework tears yet?

One thing I’m working on is letting my kids have some time in their struggle before I jump in to “fix” it.

As parents, we are tired at the end of the day too. We want the homework over with as much as they do and we, just like our kids, have probably used most of our mojo for the day already. This leaves us tired with less capacity to do our best work as parents.

Slowing down and understanding your child’s perspective and experience can be really valuable. Instead of forcing the homework, we can take time to ask questions and understand.

Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child, recommends identifying the difficulty and asking the question “what’s up?”

This is the sentence frame.

  • “I noticed you’re having difficulty with….what’s up?” Now, just listen.
  • “I noticed you’re having difficulty getting started on your math every night, what’s up?”

Adults jump right into problem solving when we may not truly understand the problem. Often what our kids need from us is not a math tutorial, it’s just to be heard and understood by you.

So give curiosity and listening a try. In the long run, building these foundations of trust and communication will be more valuable than their ability to comply with their thirty minute nightly reading.