School. This word alone has evoked anxiety in children and teens for years – worrying about peers, stressing over homework, striving for certain letter grades, feeling unsure if others accept them.
This school year has been unlike any other and has had unexpected challenges and unknowns. With that said, it is also normal to feel unexpected increased anxiety about school for students. If you notice your child is struggling with specific anxieties surrounding school that are overwhelming or impacting them, guide them through these five steps to feel more confident and in control.
Five Steps to Help Your Child
- Stretch and take some deep breaths. One way to help deal with worry is to take a 5-minute stretch and deep breathing break. For stretching, low-impact stretches that involve the major muscles in your body are helpful. YouTube is a great resource to find more specific visual demonstrations on effective stretching. For deep breaths, remember to focus on guiding your breathing to being deeper, quieter, and more regular as is comfortable.
- Talk to someone you trust. Vent or ask for advice. Talking about specific worries can be a healthy outlet. Some people find it helpful to vent (to talk about what is bothering them to get it out and not wanting suggestions on what to try or do differently); others find it helpful to ask for advice (asking for suggestions on what to try or do differently). When starting these conversations, establish the role you want the other person to play – listener or advisor.
- Move your body. Take a walk outside, jump on a trampoline, do pushups, etc. Moving your body can help express worry and anxiety and push more oxygen to the brain to get it to work through the emotions.
- Get enough sleep regularly. Getting enough rest to let the brain work through worries naturally is extremely important in combatting anxiety. Turn off screens, go to bed at the same time each night, and keep tablets, video game systems, or smartphones out of the bedroom during sleep hours.
- Eat well and regularly. Eat at regular times and make sure to keep a balanced diet; this helps our brains get the fuel it needs to deal with worries in the best way it can.
Some of the specific anxiety points we’ve heard lately surround the school schedule changing at a moment’s notice and students worried about falling grades due to distance learning. Here is our advice on the subjects in case you or your student are dealing with similar worries:
- My child is worried that their grades are lower than usual. One way to address this specific worry is to first ask your student what grades represent to them? Not the specific letter meaning “pass” or “fail,” but of what value do they personally see grades? What are they afraid it might say about them as a person if they didn’t achieve the grade they wanted, or that they think their parent wants them to have? Once they answer those questions, pinpoint the actions they have control over that could help improve their performance in school. Perhaps it’s getting more sleep because they’re too tired during the school day, or scheduling specific homework hours to focus on school without distractions of cell phones, games, or TV.
- My child is anxious to return to school after months of distance learning. Talk to your child to first identify what is it about returning to school that’s worrying them. From there, discuss a plan of what would help them feel more comfortable and less worried. Acknowledge that they will still likely feel some worry about the transition, but you’ll do what you can to ease them through it. This plan might include buying a new, more protective face mask; meeting up with a friend outside of school to study; or exploring hybrid school options. Lastly, help your child execute the plan as best as possible. Establish a “backup” plan in case there are obstacles, and keep the conversation open for them to communicate with you or someone they trust if they’re needing additional support.
This blog article was contributed by Matthew Talmadge, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at Nexus-Gerard Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.