by Amy Beth Taublieb, PhD
Accompanying the beginning of the school year are emotions associated the upcoming seasonal change. As family routines and demands change, it is not uncommon to experience all kinds of variations in feelings and behaviors.
Whereas the structure associated with returning to school provides a certain degree of security for kids, there are aspects of a school setting that can elicit feelings that are just the opposite. Concerns regarding academic demands, dealing with that bully from last year, what the homeroom teacher will be like, anxiety about being a victim on social media, fears about safety within the school setting, or even thoughts about how to get the attention of that cute girl or guy, the list is virtually endless. And, along with this list comes an even longer list of associated anxieties.
What is the best way for parents to address these emotional struggles their kids are likely experiencing? First and foremost, it’s crucial for parents to first acknowledge that these feelings exist, and that they are natural and normal. Next, parents need to be aware of the specific way(s) their children express anxiety, and then be on the lookout for such behaviors. Some young people express anxiety in terms of anger, some show sensitivity to criticism, some act out, some withdraw, and some act silly. Some kids also express their anxiety with more physical symptoms such as changes in eating and sleeping, experiencing headaches, stomach issues, or full-fledged panic attacks. Of course, for the majority of young folks, anxiety is expressed as some combination of these symptoms.
The key here is the parental reaction to the child’s anxiety. Keep in mind that children look to their parents as models for how to respond to circumstances. Although it may seem paradoxical, it is important that parents refrain from responding anxiously to their kids’ anxiety. It is actually best for parents to, calmly and confidently, label the child’s anxiety as such. Doing so helps the child identify the source of these anxious feelings, places emphasis on the normalcy of these feelings, and then makes it possible to help their child explore various coping strategies.
The best message that parents can convey to their children is that they are not especially shaken by their child’s expression of anxiety, and that their anxiety is something that can be addressed, and dealt with accordingly. It is important to let your child know that anxiety is a normal part of life, and something that can be handled together. Displaying this demeanor helps assure your child that there is nothing to fear. Teaching your child that anxiety is normal may be one of the best lessons that they learn from you.
Dr. Amy Beth Taublieb is a Licensed Psychologist in Western New York. She is also an author, media personality, and public speaker. Her private practice consists of providing psychotherapy and assessments for individuals, couples, and families. Learn more about Dr. Taublieb at www.dramybeth.com, or call her at 716-834-1505 to make an appointment.