Thursday, August 10, 2017

Back to School: Part 1 - Resources for Parents to Help Children with Anxiety

August means the end of summer vacation and the time to start back to school. Children frequently experience a wide range of emotions about the start of a school year including excitement, worry, and sadness. The emotions about a new school year can start showing weeks before the first day of class. Many parents report an increase in meltdowns and anxious talk at bedtime even before the "Meet Your Teacher" Open House.

I always recommend to parents, that if possible, not to travel just before school opens, instead plan to be in town and attend the Open House and get children back on a school schedule (generally earlier bedtimes than were the norm during summer). Also to try to arrange a play date with a classmate once it is known who will be in each class. We can all appreciate that having a familiar face in class helps with Back-to-School jitters. I remind parents that for children the start of the school year can be highly stressful. It is important that parents express optimism about the new school year and not feed into the child's concern about a certain teacher or classmate. Parents can also role-play with their child to prepare them to greet the teacher at Open House, introduce themselves to students they do not know, etc.

Most children will adjust to a new school year within a month. If after the first month of school a child is reluctant to come in the building on their own or expressing regular concern, I encourage parents to talk to the teacher and myself to see if we can help with the adjustment or discuss if a child may be experiencing serious separation anxiety. The main differences between separation anxiety and separation anxiety disorder are the intensity of your child’s fears, and whether these fears keep him or her from normal activities. Children with separation anxiety disorder may become agitated at just the thought of being away from mom or dad, and may complain of sickness to avoid playing with friends or attending school. When symptoms are extreme enough, these anxieties can add up to a disorder that affects approximately 4%-5% of children in the U. S. ages 7 to 11 years. It is less common in teenagers, affecting about 1.3% of American teens. It affects boys and girls equally. If a parent collaborating with the teacher, counselor, and student can't improve a students anxiety a referral may be warranted.

It is very important that parents understand anxiety if they are going to be successful in helping an anxious child. Parents need to work to make an anxious child feel safer not let them avoid the source of anxiety. There are many good books to help parents learn more about anxiety and related concerns. The ones from the past 10 years I recommend are the following:

Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents by R. M. Rapee et al. (2008) provides parents a guide for assisting their children in overcoming a variety of worries, fears, and anxieties.

Growing Up Brave: Expert Strategies for Helping Your Child Overcome Fear, Stress, and Anxiety by Donna Pincus (2012) helps parents identify and understand anxiety in their children, outlines effective and convenient parenting techniques for reducing anxiety, and shows parents how to promote bravery for long-term confidence.

Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety or School Refusal: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents by Andrew R. Eisen & Linda Engler (2006) helps parents/guardians: a) identify child’s unique safety needs; b) empower child with simple and effective coping skills; c) guide child to better sleep and regular school attendance; and d) monitor progress.

Overcoming School Anxiety: How to Help Your Child Deal with Separation, Tests, Homework, Bullies, Math Phobia, and Other Worries by Diane Peters Mayer (2008) shows parents how to deal with a wide variety of problems, from test and homework anxiety, to bullying, and fear of speaking up in class. Mayer also offers easy-to-learn techniques for children including breathing and relaxation exercises, focusing techniques, and tips on proper diet and exercise that help relieve stress.

Freeing Your Child from Anxiety, Revised and Updated Edition: Practical Strategies to Overcome Fears, Worries, and Phobias and Be Prepared for Life--from Toddlers to Teens (2014) explains some of the ways they "help" actually makes children more anxious. The book explains how parents and children can work TOGETHER against the anxiety.

Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents by Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons (2013) offers an effective approach to help children and teens push through their fears, worries, and phobias to ultimately become more resilient, independent, and happy.

Why Smart Kids Worry: And What Parents Can Do to Help by Allison Edwards (2013) guides parents through the mental and emotional process of where a child's fears come from and why they are so hard to move past. Edwards focuses on how to parent a child who is both smart and anxious.

Your Anxious Child: How Parents and Teachers Can Relieve Anxiety in Children 2nd Edition (2016) by John Dacey, Martha D. Mack, Lisa B. Fiore (Author) designed to help parents, teachers, and counselors support young people suffering from anxiety. Offers an array of innovative strategies organized into the authors’ four-step “COPE” program. Each strategy is accompanied by a set of activities contextualized with full details of the appropriate age level, materials needed, suggested setting, and a template script.

There are several good web sites that offer advice to parents regarding anxiety. These have good free resources for parents and and

Future posts will focus on resources for counselors, teachers, and children to develop a helpful approach to anxiety.

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