Anxious Beginnings

For most kids, this month marks the beginning of a new school year.  With that new

Teacher In Classroom

beginning usually comes a mixture of feelings-excitement, happiness, sadness that summer is over, maybe some dread of the work to come, and often some anxiety about what the new school year will bring.  For most kids, that anxiety is not much more that a few butterflies about who their teacher will be and which of their friends will be in their class.  For others, it is much more difficult and they are overwhelmed with fears that leave them panicked, tearful, unable to sleep or eat normally, and sometimes physically ill. These are kids that often deal with high levels of anxiety in new situations, in general, and a new school year brings  their fears to the surface. For parents, this can be especially difficult to handle.  We try to convince our kids that they are safe. That we will not forget to pick them up after school.  That their teacher is not going to yell at them. That she will not call on them the first day of school if they don’t raise their hand.  To an anxious child, these are just some of their very real fears. It is challenging for parents not to get frustrated, especially if the anxiety lasts for more than a few days.  Here are a few ideas that may help:

  • Children who are experiencing challenges in other parts of their lives, are more likely to feel increased anxiety with this transition.  This may include difficulties in the family such as marital problems, divorce, parental unemployment, health problems. It may also include their own learning challenges such as a learning disability or ADHD.
  • If children want to talk about what they are worried about, listen to them completely, and then put some boundaries around how much you allow them to talk about it.
  • The more they focus on the fear, the bigger it gets.  So allow them to express it, discuss the facts around the fear and then put it aside for later.
  • Distraction is a good thing!
  • Don’t coddle the anxious child too  much.  I know it is counter-intuitive, but too much coddling also makes the anxiety grow.  When a child is anxious, they need the adults around them to be confident and to send them the message that all is well.  If you are coddling too much you may be sending the message to the child that you agree that he has something to to be worried about! In my 27 years as a family therapist, I have found that this is often, but not always,  more challenging for us mothers than for most fathers.  If that is true in your family, then have Dad take the child to school until the anxiety lessens.

If the anxiety continues more than a couple of weeks, consider contacting a counselor for more help.  Often a few sessions can be very helpful in teaching children and parents techniques to better handle  anxiety

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About Gretchen Derda (Woosley), MSW, LCSW

I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in a private psychotherapy practice where I specialize in work with families and children. My focus is to help families improve their functioning so that each member of the family can reach their full potential, becoming the persons they were meant to be.
This entry was posted in Family Life, mental health, parenting and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Anxious Beginnings

  1. Emily says:

    Okay, I am sending this to a friend who really needs to read your advice!

  2. Pingback: 10 Things That Make Me Anxious | Winston Scrooge

  3. My daughter (9 – 4th grade) gets overwhelmed with her homework. She will start crying when she thinks about how much she has to do rather than plugging away at it until it’s finished. This makes it last longer. She is a smart kid so she is not struggling with the difficulty of the work, just the amount of work she has to do. I come from a family where if I did what she is doing I would have been shamed for not being disciplined enough. I recognize that her behavior is triggering me to respond to her in a similar way. For the most part I try to be calm, confident, helpful and non shaming. I don’t want to treat her the way I was treated. But she seems to be experiencing the anxiety I experienced nonetheless. I’m wondering if there is some other approach I can try to make her feel more relaxed about he work. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Gretchen D. Woosley, MSW, LCSW says:

      WInston, Thank you for your question. Obviously it’s a bit dangerous for me to give advice not knowing your daughter, but a few questions come to mind. First, let’s start with the most basic…Is she over tired at the time she is starting to do her homework? Has she had a snack and had some time to relax after school before tackling the homework? Does she have any specific learning challenges that could be causing her frustration, such as a learning disability or ADHD? Kids with these challenges often deal with incredible frustration around homework. They hold it together at school for as long as they possibly can, and by the time they get home they are emotionally spent. Is this frustration evident in other areas of her life or just homework? I would most definitely help her break down her assignments into manageable pieces, perhaps 15 minutes at a time. After she works for 15 minutes, she can take a 5 minute break to chat with you or have a glass of water and then get back at the work for another 15 minutes until the assignments are done. Hopefully she doesn’t have more than 30 minutes of homework a night for 4th grade! I hope that helps a bit.

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