Starting back at school after a long summer break can be a welcome return to routine for some children and their families. For others, it can be a difficult time, especially if your child is worried or anxious about going back to school. Here are some tips to help ease your child (and you!) back to school.
It’s natural for back to school to be a shock to the system for everyone, especially if your child has been enjoying leisurely mornings over the summer. So, if possible, start to ease children back into things a few days beforehand. Ensure the basics are in place so they can manage the change in routine and their emotions effectively.
So, get them to bed a bit earlier and if necessary, get them up a little earlier a few days beforehand. Make sure they have good food inside them (no massive bags of Haribo the night before!), and that uniforms, bags and pencil cases are all ready to go so there’s no mad dash on the first day (note to self!).
If your child is going to school for the first time (a big step for you all!) you could practice the first day routine so they know what to expect.
Make sure you create some time and space to spend some relaxed time with your child before they go back to school. Check in with them and see how they feel about the start of the new term.
If anxieties surface, encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling and try to get to the bottom of why. Just doing this can often make children feel better – most of us feel a sense of relief having shared our worries with someone supportive and quite often that makes them disappear!
If possible or necessary, encourage your child to come up with strategies to help them deal with their worries. For example if they’re worried about a particular child being mean to them, discuss how they could deal with it if it happens. Having a practical plan can really help children feel that they know what to do if something happens. You could write both the worries and how to deal with them somewhere to refer back to if helpful.
While it’s important to talk to children about any worries they might have, it’s also really helpful to encourage them to focus on the positives – the things about school they are looking forward. This is helping them to understand that how they think about something can make a difference. It might also help to gently teach them that doing things we feel nervous about is both necessary in life and actually something to be encouraged.
It might be that they’ll enjoy seeing their friends, or get to play their favourite sport or with their favourite toy, or even that the school lunches are way better than your cooking! Whatever it is, find something that they can look forward to and help them to focus their attention on that.
Having something to look forward to as a family can also help. For example, you could plan a day trip at the weekend or to go to their favourite lunch spot. Do remember that they may well be tired after the first week back and you don’t want to have one of those ‘WE-ARE-SUPPOSED-TO-BE-HAVING-FUN!’ times (!). The important thing is to just some time together doing something a bit special. It will give you all something to look forward to and provide a great opportunity to chat about the first week back at school. It could even simply be a special weekend breakfast…pancakes anyone?! 😉
If your child gets anxious it can be really helpful to teach them some basic breathing exercises to help to calm them down – just some simple deep breaths will help. Your child’s willingness to do this will depend on their age, however basic calming breathing exercises can really help us all to stay calm if we’re starting to feel nervous or worried. Primary children really enjoy being taught ‘big belly breathing’ and it’s something you can do together.
Big Belly Breathing
If your child is particularly anxious,you can read more about dealing with anxiety (written for adults but applicable to children) in this post I wrote earlier in the year. There are also some nice exercises in this article you could try with them.
If you child is particularly worried about something and it’s , it’s usually best to let the school know sooner rather than later. As a form tutor and class teacher I was always happy to speak to parents about their child and wanted to help where I could.
Yes, teachers are busy at the start of the year, but good teachers are never too busy to talk about a child’s worries and always want the best for the children in their care. A quick email or a chat will help them to understand what might be going on with your child and allow them to help if needed, or just keep an eye on things. It will make you feel better too!
This post discusses self-help strategies to help you deal with anxiety – strategies that work! As discussed in yesterday’s blog post, anxiety can be a debilitating condition. Sufferers may need to take medication to manage their anxiety, but there are many ways you can help yourself. Like many others, I’ve experienced anxiety at times in my life. This blog post gives practial, self-help ways you can deal with anxiety – all strategies I have used to manage my own anxiety. I hope it might be helpful for you or an adult or young person you know.
If you’re in the middle of feeling anxious, or indeed at any time you just want to feel a little calmer, belly breathing really helps to calm you down. Here’s what to do:
I first discovered meditation when having a period of anxiety after a friend had died from suicide. It helped tremendously and numerous studies have shown it can help with anxiety. The Meditation I do is really just an extension of the big belly breathing. I get up 15 minutes earlier than I used to, put on the brilliant Headspace app and go through one of the guided meditations. Headspace ‘teaches’ you how to meditate through a series of guided meditations (the first 10 are free). Learning to stand back and observe thoughts and emotions is a powerful technique. It’s a great way to start the day and I usually feel focussed, calm and ready for anything afterwards. If I don’t ‘Wake up with Andy’ (Puddicome who talks you through the meditations) I feel a bit ‘off’. I’ll write more about meditation in the future, but if you haven’t already, I really recommend giving it a go.
While anxiety can sometimes interfere with sleep, getting adequate, good quality sleep is helpful in managing the condition. Adults need around 8 hours per night and children at least 10 hours (there’s a great sleep table here). If that’s not happening, trying to find acceptance of the situation can help (see meditation above) alongside implementing good ‘sleep hygiene’. This ‘Ultimate Routine for Optimal Sleep‘ infographic from Huffington Post has some good recommendations.
There is some food and drink that can help with anxiety and some that can make it worse. I’ll be writing about what nutrition help the brain in another post, so I’ll focus on what to avoid here. I’m sorry to say but caffeine and alcohol are top of the list. While alcohol can often be used by people with anxiety to relieve the feelings, it can cause symptoms of anxiety to worsen and dangerous patterns can emerge which lead people further down the spiral.
Caffeine is another stimulant and the ‘wired’ state it gives can create problems for people who are anxious, exacerbating some symptoms. Best to go decaf or avoid if you suffer from anxiety. I’ve not really bothered with alcohol for some years now and drink one or two decaf coffees a day at the most. Peppermint tea is my tipple of choice these days – my 20-year-old self would find that terribly dull, but it’s how my 40-year-old self rolls (and I like it that way!).
More messages you’ve heard before here, but yep, exercise has been shown to have a plethora of benefits for mental health, including anxiety. This leaflet from the Royal College of Psychiatrists is helpful. They recommend 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise on at least 5 days of every week – either in one session or broken up into shorter 10 or 15 minute sessions. That’s pretty do-able for most people. My dog walks are some of my favourite activities of the day – and the dogs quite like it too!
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post on anxiety, sufferers may naturally want to avoid the source of their perceived danger and enter into avoidance strategies. This causes patterns to become ingrained and fears to loom larger in the mind. Helping someone to overcome and confront their fears in a supportive, kind, managed way is a great way to help. Depending on how bad the avoidance behaviours are, it may need professional intervention or just someone to be there in an understanding way. Which leads me to…
One of the themes of Mental Health Awareness Week is nurturing good relationships. Good relationships are the cornerstone of good mental health. As I discussed in Monday’s post on Child Mental Health, having people to talk to can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and other mental health issues before they become mental health disorders. I’m incredibly lucky to have a wonderful network of friends and family that I can talk to, and laugh with, about anything and support each other through life’s ups and downs. On the other hand, as many of us also know, having difficult relationships which bring added stress, can contribute greatly to feelings of anxiety. Having mutually supportive, kind people in your life is a great benefit for dealing with anxiety and mental health in general and Mental Health Awareness Week is encouraging us to pledge that we will nurture the good relationships we have. It’s sometimes a challenge with busy lives, but important that we do. This is a great free guide worth reading on relationships and mental wellbeing.
Some herbal remedies have been shown to help with anxiety, such as St. John’s Wort, Valerian and Passionflower. Others include Rhodiola and 5HTP. Each of them works differently and trials are often mixed, however they might be worth a go if you are struggling and want to avoid conventional medication.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Although not really a self-help strategy, as you would usually to a practioner to learn CBT techniques, there are some excellent books that will give you the ideas of the basics which really involves amending our ‘faulty thinking’ to help to see things in a more realistic way. If you would like to find out more I can recommend Change Your Thinking with CBT by Dr Sarah Edelman. There is also an online course used by the NHS called Beat the Blues which is based on CBT and offers 8 self-help sessions for £49.99 which is a pretty good investment as NHS waiting lists can be long for CBT.
Further Help for Anxiety
So, there are some self-help strategies that you can use to manage anxiety, or maybe pass on to someone who could use some help. There are plenty more and some of these may not work for all people, but they work for me. It’s important to find your own way. If you are trying to help someone else, one of the best things you can do is to find out more. There’s good advice available from Anxiety UK if anxiety affects you. Their advice for young people is particularly helpful for teachers or anyone working with children or adolescents. The Young Minds and Mind websites also have practical tips and helpsheets.
Everyone experiences some anxiety in their life at some points in response to situations such as public speaking, interviews, exams, starting a new job or school, or another big life change. Mostly the feelings of unease, worry, fear or even panic will stop after either the event is over, or a short period of time. However, if the feelings can’t be calmed and continue over a longer period of time, then anxiety disorders can develop that may impact on living a full and healthy life.
As discussed in yesterday’s blog post about child mental health, many mental health problems including anxiety disorders start in childhood and adolescence, so it’s important that parents and teachers are aware of the signs and can help young people deal with their anxiety before it becomes a disorder.
There are some very physical signs of anxiety that sufferers may feel. Recent studies have shown that the Amygdala, the area of the brain associated with anxiety which alerts us to danger, may become overstimulated. Sufferers can become stuck in ‘fight or flight mode, feeling vulnerable and perceiving a ‘danger’ of some kind. The body meanwhile gets ready to fight that bear or tiger and as the adrenalin courses through our bodies. Some of the physical signs of anxiety include:
The psychological symptoms of anxiety vary from person to person, though they can include:
Clearly anxiety is pretty unpleasant to live with for any length of time. Anxiety becomes a disorder when the feelings are long-lasting, more severe than the norm and start to interfere with work, school and relationships.
Sufferers can understandably want to stay away from the perceived threat and therefore avoidance behaviours are common. Unfortunately avoidance can lead to greater issues as the threat looms larger in the mind and the cycle continues. If anxiety continues for a prolonged period, anxiety disorders can develop.
There are a number of different anxiety disorders including generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Anxiety disorders are common with up to 5% of the UK population thought to suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, with women between the ages of 35 to 59 being the most common sufferers. The last UK wide survey on mental health reported in 2009 that 4.7 in every 100 people suffer from anxiety problems with 9.7 in 100 people suffering from anxiety mixed with depression.
If you are worried about someone suffering from anxiety, or indeed you recognise that you may be suffering from anxiety yourself, there is a lot of help available. Good websites include:
Coming up tomorrow…ways to treat anxiety