Starting school is huge, and is a daunting time for both our little ones and ourselves. Feeling a range of emotions is to be expected, such as excitement, apprehension, sadness, fear, uncertainty and anxiety. We might even find that we experience irritability or even anger.
So why is this? When we are faced with something new that takes us out of our comfort zone, we can feel anxious. Our mind has a mild panic as it attempts to navigate this new and uncertain time. Our amygdala (small almond shaped part of our brain associated with processing emotions) can get activated, and it can feel as though we are under threat. This may leave us wanting to run, fight or freeze. Sometimes it can make it really challenging for us to think clearly and problem solve.
Another thing that can happen when we feel anxious, is that we don’t like the way anxiety makes us feel. We can experience uncomfortable and overwhelming thoughts and feelings that can be quite scary. Because of this, our natural tendency as humans is to avoid doing things that make us feel anxious. By doing so, the ‘danger’ is averted and our anxiety abates, making us feel calm again. As you can imagine, this is pretty reinforcing, however this relief is only really helpful in the short term. In the longer term, the more we avoid something, the more anxious we actually feel about it. Since school is an integral part of all of our growth and development, avoiding it really isn’t an option.
As parents we worry about our children – it is a given. We also remember all the rough times we went through at school and we worry that our kids will also experience tough times. We want to keep them safe and to protect them from friendship battles, teasing or a sense of not belonging. Just like our young child, we too are often also nervous about meeting other parents, trying to make friends and fitting in.
So what can you do as a parent to help your youngster, not only get through the school gate and into the classroom, but also to grow from the experience and utilise this learning to tackle other challenges?
First things first…..
Grounding Yourself – remember you are your child’s greatest role model
Be aware of your own anxiety and where your mind is taking you.
- Notice when your mind is worrying about the past or future and bring it back to the present moment
- Thank your mind for trying to help (it is just doing what it is designed to do!)
- Take a deep breath and push your feet into the ground
- Be present to the situation at hand
- Think about how you want to respond in this present moment
Helping your child
1. Talk to them and listen – resist the temptation to jump in and problem solve
- Be open and honest and fully present – put devices and distractions aside
- Use empathy – get in touch with how it must feel for your child
- Listen to what they have to say, try to understand the situation from their perspective
- Take their concerns seriously – even if they don’t seem too big a deal to you
- Normalise and validate how they are feeling.
“It is understandable that you are feeling really scared. This is new for you and your mind is trying to figure out how it will all go. I would be feeling scared too”
2. Help them to be present
- Reassure them that their mind is just trying to help
- Encourage them to take a deep breath and wiggle their fingers and toes
- Reassure them that it is okay to be scared and support them to give it a go anyway
“I can see how scared you are feeling, I am feeling scared too. I don’t know the other parents and I am also feeling nervous about making new friends. My plan is to take a deep breath, smile and say hello. How about we feel scared together and give it a go?’
3. At the end of the day
- Talk to them about how their day went
- Listen to their concerns
- Congratulate them for giving it a go even though they were nervous and their mind was telling them it was too hard or scary
Anna Young – Nurse Counsellor