By Janick Hickman, Assistant Director of Educational Programs; Mental Health Counselor, CHC-FL
The back-to-school season can be an exciting time for children, as they gather school supplies and discuss the year ahead with friends. With so much to anticipate—new teachers, new classmates and for some, a new school—children can often experience anxiety, as well. That's to be expected. But sometimes the back-to-school jitters can get in the way of enjoying school. So it's important for parents to understand the sources of stress in their child's academic life and help them in feeling more prepared to manage their school experiences.
Here's CHC Mental Health Counselor Janick Hickman sharing timely advice and tips on back-to-school jitters—an important topic for parents of students of all ages.
Dana Selznick, Director, CHC's Education Center
Although the start of a new school year can be exciting, students of all ages may experience heightened feelings of anxiousness this time of year. Among the many potential sources of stress are:
their first time in a classroom setting after online schooling;
last year’s bully is again a classmate;
the worry of safety;
heading into an environment of expectations (e.g., making good grades, having to give an oral book report, having to answer questions aloud in class, socializing, fitting in).
A Cycle of Anxiety
Thoughts can lead to feelings, which can lead to physiological responses, and ultimately, to behaviors. Oftentimes, thoughts such as "What if I get bullied this year again?," “Will anyone sit with me at lunch?,” “Do I have to fit in?,” “Will there be a school shooting?,” “What if I feel sick at school?,” “What if I have a panic attack in front of everyone?,” “What if the homework is too hard?,” can lead to feelings of fear, anxiousness, worry, distress, concern, agitation, distraction and feeling uptight.
These feelings can produce physiological/physical responses such as stomach aches, headaches, vomiting, sweating, increased heart rate, and irritability to name a few. As a result, experienced behaviors may include difficulty getting to or staying asleep, crying, defiance or other challenging behaviors, avoidance of school or related activities, and difficulty staying focused.
Added Challenge of Hearing Loss
For Deaf/Hard of Hearing children and teens, feelings of anxiety incorporate another level of challenges and stressors, including equitable expressive and receptive communication access, whether it be in the classroom or with their school peers. In a classroom environment, for example, even if a teacher accepts and remembers to put on their FM system, if they are not repeating student questions prior to answering, the DHH youth can miss out on important information. Class group work, lunch bunch and recess become situations in which the student needs to actively work to participate, rather than be able to just enjoy.
How You Can Help
To parents, guardians, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors or coaches, my ask is to take notice. Take notice of the students in your care and be available to listen and learn about their concerns and fears. Below is a list of ways in which you can begin to provide support.
Ask them how they are feeling (do not dismiss their worries—validate that their feelings are real and important to them).
Help children and teens to identify their stressors and work together to support them in feeling prepared to manage situations.
If their anxieties are leading to disruption of daily functioning (e.g., insomnia, too little or too much eating, school absences, lack of interest, etc.), seek professional support from your child's Pediatrician, School Counselor, and/or Mental Health Counselor.
For younger youth, anxieties may stem from separation anxiety. In this case, if possible, prepare them for the transition before the first day of school.
Ask them to tell you about or draw you a picture of their worries.
Create and practice morning routines.
Talk to their teacher to gather tips to help the transition from summer back to school go smoothly.
You Are Not Alone
I hope these tips are helpful in giving your young scholar the support they need to enjoy school and thrive academically. Should you have questions or need additional advice, please don't hesitate to contact me using the button below. All of us at CHC are here to help in any way we can.
Wishing students everywhere a happy and successful school year!
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