It's that time of year again... for some kids it's exciting, perhaps a new school, a new teacher, new classroom... new books! For many it's an anxious time. So many unknowns... it can be hard to stay calm. Anxious children project the worst in their minds, they use their imagination to see all their worst fears coming true. It's a difficult time for many.
Here are a few tips for children who worry...
Encourage your children to stay in touch with friends from school, if you haven't done this it's not too late. The summer break is a long time in Ireland 8-9 weeks, so make it part of your summer to meet up with your child's friends - it could be an invitation to a fun day out, a trip to the park, or perhaps a barbecue or picnic. Even if you just invite their friends over and allow them to play, its time well spent as children know they are on good terms with these friends and they don't have to start again, trying to re-establish friendships, when they get back to school. Even if you're children are already back in school, don't under estimate the power of play dates (Or for older kids 'hanging out' with their friends..). It gives a child or teen a boost to have friends from school on their own turf, and they feel more secure from the extra social time together. Think of it as bonding time. I only discovered the power of play dates when one of my very shy children started school. I knew I had to do everything I could to ensure she had some good friends to play with in yard.
Friendships and what happens during break times can often be a cause of stress for children and teens. Make sure your child has the skills to make new friends and also the ability to ask if they can join a game or walk away from friends who are being mean or pushy. I have been teaching the children on the Summer Camps that I ran how to speak up for themselves and also how easy it can be to make new friends. (Any child starting a new school (primary or secondary) or having their classes mixed around needs to know this) Firstly you smile at someone, and then you say 'Hi'. It's that simple. You then try to talk to the person - ask them a question or talk about something. E.g. Can I sit beside you during ....? What's your name? Teach them that if someone doesn't appear friendly back, don't give up, they may be shy. In addition, we can never have enough friends... making friends with your friends' friends is another good way to widen your circle of friends.
- Everything will be okayRemind your child of times that they worried in the past - but everything worked out fine. Think back yourself of times you got yourself into a state over something in school... a test, a project, a problem, or a performance, and remember the feeling of it not being as bad as you thought it was going to be. Share these stories with your child, they love to hear about our experiences. Give them a mantra or an affirmation such as 'Everything will be okay' or 'I'll handle it'. Tell them to use it to calm themselves down when those worries creep in.
Stay Calm Yourself
We all know how much they pick up our moods and worries. If you're prone to worry yourself, the best thing you can do, is share your coping tools with your child, and if you don't have any coping tools, its time to get some. It's easy to project our worries onto our kids.. I've done it myself. My daughter (who was suffering from terrible separation anxiety last year) would keep hearing from me all the way to school, about how she should just give me a kiss at the steps and go straight in... by the time we got to school she'd be thinking and talking about nothing else, and so she was a in state. I made it worse (I was trying to help her but it was just bringing it up over and over again which made her worse!)
What is your child telling his or herself? For example my daughter this evening was telling herself 'I don't want to go back to school', she is worrying about not having enough time to eat her lunch... she said she heard her new teacher doesn't give her class much time to eat. So I am helping her to come up with some practical things to do about it, such as bring her lunch out to yard, concentrate on eating (not chatting!) and I told her I will speak to the teacher, if there is really not enough time to eat (because rumors aren't always true). Find out what the 'inner talk' is about, and help them to come up with solutions.
Practice Deep Breathing
Practice deep breathing with children to calm their minds. The best time to practice this, I think, is at bed time, when they're lying in bed thinking... There is nothing better than learning breathing techniques to get kids through anxiety. Deep breathing is the opposite of worry and anxiety because we are becoming calmer in our mind, with each deep breath. This is why any exercise with deep breathing is good for kids such as yoga, tai chi, meditation or simple breathing techniques. Here are a few examples to try with your anxious child (make sure to do it with them) but feel free to look up more age appropriate exercises:
- Belly breathing - lie down and put your hand on your belly and imagine your belly blowing up like a balloon with each deep breath (or put a favorite cuddly toy there and watch it go up and down). (repeat 10 times)
- Counting each breath - count the deep breath up to 10. Or you can count the length of the in and out breath and try to make it longer and longer. 3 seconds for the in breath and 6 seconds for the out the breath. (repeat 10 times)
- Teach your child to take a big breath in, saying slowly in their mind 'in' with each in breath and 'out' with each out breath. (repeat 10 times).
Don't forget to tell your child that night time deep breathing is just good practice - it's when they feel worry or anxiety coming on during their day, that is when they have to remember for themselves to do it. No-one else has to know what they're doing, and it may only take a few breaths to calm your mind down.
Overall, make sure more than anything that your child is talking to you and you are giving them time and attention to help solve the problem in a positive way. Rather than worrying about and bringing it up all the time, try to have some one to one time with them, and give them some practical tools.
Best of luck to all your children with the new academic year, please get in touch if you would like to book your child with myself or one of our coaches for either an online session or face to face (Dublin North, Dublin South & Cork).
Also to stay in touch you can sign up for bi-monthly blogs below.
Child and Teen Life Coach - The Confidence Clinic