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Help your child start school with confidence
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No Caption - photo by Kim Giles
Question:

My child did not have a good year last year in school and was so relieved when summer came. Now she is getting very anxious, even sick, about going back. She worries about handling the homework and about problems with friends. Is there anything I can do to help her start the year off right with less fear and anxiety?

Answer:

Here are some things you can do to lessen her anxiety:

  1. Let her know that its OK to be a little scared. Almost everyone feels some fear when starting something new. Avoid making her feel something is wrong with her for being scared. Say things like I totally understand why you feel this way, and its perfectly normal." Then have lots of conversations about why she is nervous and do more listening than talking.
  2. Talk about how she could handle situations if they come up. Run through scenarios and help her think of options in response. If that happens, what can she do? Usually, we are afraid of "what ifs" and they always seem scarier in our minds than they are in real life. Preparing a response in advance will help her feel less scared.
  3. Help her to understand the nature of fear. In a recent article, I explained how you can use Pixars new movie "Inside Out" to help children understand their emotions. Have your child imagine a little guy named Fear in her head, who is the one freaking out about school. Fear is just trying to protect her from perceived danger, but he often perceives danger when it isnt really there. Help her to understand that most situations turn out better and easier than Fear thinks they will. Fear also likes to play what if games and imagine scary things that arent real. Help her recognize when a worry is an imagined one that Fear created, and when she is afraid of something real. Seeing worries as imagined will discredit them fast. Also, tell her she has the power to tell Fear to sit down and shut up. She doesn't have to let him drive. She has the power to put Joy in charge and focus on today.
  4. Come up with a good routine for the school year. Make a plan for handling school before it starts. Get a calendar so you can keep track of everyones schedules. Set aside a time and place for homework. Let her know you will be there to help every step of the way. These routines make children feel more secure and let them know what to expect.
  5. Help your child decide who she wants to be and what kind of year she wants to have ahead of time. Your child will spend a lot of time this year trying to figure out who she is and how she fits in. You can make this easier by helping her create a sense of identity ahead of time, and this exercise would be good for you to do, too.
Get out a piece of paper and have her write down the different roles she plays in her life. She is a daughter, sister, friend and student. If you do this with her, add spouse, parent, or an employee role to yours. You may also want to write about your physical, spiritual and intellectual life and how you want to show up in each of these areas.

Then, brainstorm on paper how she, and you, wants to show up in each of those roles. What kind of a sister does she want to be this year? What kind of a friend does she want to be? What kind of a student would she like to be? Have her write down specific details about how she would like to show up in each role.

Also, have her write down some rules or policies that she wants to hold as truths this year. These could be commitments to a healthy way of thinking. Is she going to let the opinions of others crush her this year? Is she going to be in charge of her self-worth?

Once she has a clear picture of who she wants to be, get a fresh piece of paper and have her write each statement in present tense, as if she already is them. For example:

  • I am a good student who gets good grades and turns in all homework on time.
  • I keep track of assignments in my planner and check it multiple times a day.
  • I don't worry about mistakes, they are just lessons and don't change my value as a person. (For younger kids it might say: It's OK to make mistakes. That's just part of the learning new things.)
  • I am a good friend who is loyal and kind. I never gossip about others and walk away if my friends start doing this.
  • I am a good sister who looks out for my younger siblings. I share with them and treat them as I want to be treated.
  • I am happy with my life and what I have. I know that I have the same value as everyone else. No one is better than anyone else. Clothes dont determine my worth. Kindness is what matters.
  • I know who I am and dont let the opinions of others tear me down. What other people think doesnt change me at all. I am the same me no matter what they think.
  • I understand life is a classroom and hard things happen to help me become stronger and better. Life only gives me what I can handle.
You get the idea? The wording should fit their comprehension level.

This detailed description of the person she (or you) wants to be this year will become the measuring stick for making decisions and responding to situations. Deciding who want to be and how you want to act ahead of time will create self-worth and empower you to be your best.

Encourage your daughter to keep this paper handy and read it daily. She may want to read it every morning to start the day off right. My adult clients read theirs 2 or 3 times a day, especially at first.

I wrote another article a while back called Giving Kids Amazing Self Confidence. I also recommend you read it. If you would work on those 10 things, especially teaching the principles of truth about life being a classroom and her value being unchangeable, it would give your child a strong foundation to handle whatever happens.

If your child suffers from more serious anxiety, I recommend this article by psychologist Karen Young. You may also want to find a local professional to work with her.

Also, remember these challenges must be her perfect journey, and she is probably gaining strength and wisdom from them that will help her survive in life. You can't and aren't meant to save her from learning to process fear. Just keep teaching principles of truth, about life and her value, and she will be OK.

You can do this.
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