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Back-to-school anxiety, food for thought

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AS THE resumption date for 2019/2020 academic session for schools nation-wide drwas near, anxious feelings are normal and expected during times of transition or change like this one.

This is especially true for children and teens who are changing schools, moving to a new class or for first-timers starting kindergarten. This transition can be stressful and disruptive for the entire family.

Prior to the first day of school, your anxious child may cling, cry, have temper tantrums, complain of headaches or stomach pains, withdraw and become sullen or irritable.

The transition from summer to school time can test families’ coping skills in dealing with adjustments such as new teachers and new classrooms, as well as managing hectic school and work schedules. Often, it’s the fear of the unknown — new classmates, teachers, or the thought of having hard classes— that is most stressful for children around the beginning of school.

The end of summer and the beginning of a new school year can be a stressful time for parents and children. While trying to manage work and the household, parents can sometimes overlook their children’s feelings of nervousness or anxiety as school begins.

Working with your children to build resilience and manage their emotions can be beneficial for the psychological health of the whole family. Fortunately, children are extremely capable of coping with change and parents can help them in the process by providing a setting that fosters resilience and encourages them to share and express their feelings about returning to school.

On how to help kids make a smooth transition from holiday fun to school time, Mrs Theresa Onwuaso, a primary school teacher and a mother said, “back-to-school anxiety can be awful for children and heart wrenching for parents. It is so common, but it does not always look the same. Sometimes, it appears in form of illness such as headaches, tummy aches, at times, as a tantrum or fierce defiance, and often times looks exactly as you would expect.

Therefore, a week or two before school resumption, parents should endeavour to restart their families’ school routine; that is trying to get their children back into the school routine. This may mean them going to bed at a regular time and waking up early as they would do for school.

Organising backpacks, lunchboxes, ironing and arranging their school uniforms can also help with the transition into the school routine and will help make the first morning go smoothly. Again, asking children about what constitute their worries about going back to school will help them share their burdens.

Inquire from the children as to what they liked about their previous school or class and see how those positives can be incorporated into their new experience. Even after school resumption, take time to listen to your children and discuss their day at school and any issue they may have.

Above all, parents should let their children know that they are aware of what they’re going through and that they will be there to help them with the process.

It is important to encourage children to face their fears instead of falling into the trap of encouraging avoidance. Parents should not forget to validate the child’s worry by acknowledging that, like any new activity, starting school can be hard but soon becomes easy and fun”.

For Mr Ikechukwu Onwuegbuna, “emotions run high for both parents and children as resumption dates for schools draw closer. Worries are common. Children and teens are anxious and worry about many different school-related issues thereby nursing questions like “who will be my new teacher?

What if my new teacher is mean? Will any of my friends be in my new class? Will I fit in?  Are my uniforms okay? Who will sit near me in class? What if something wrong happens to mum or dad while I am at school?

The best way to help them is to be in a positive state of mind throughout this period. Our kids pick up on our stress. If you are stressed out, it can make your kids stressed out too, and when everyone is stressed, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Work on positive thinking, and this should apply for both parents and kids.If you think positively, stress will have a hard time getting in. Positive thinking and back-to-school can go together. It may not be easy, but it can be done.

Focus on the good. Turn everything negative around. Again, it is important that parents begin early, say two weeks before the actual resumption date to re-adjust schedules back to early morning mode.

That means switching from late nights and lazy mornings to reasonable bedtimes and early rising, establishing guidelines and going over them together will help parents and children be on the same page once school is in session”.

But then, Mr Ignatius Onwukwe, a Psychologist said, “back-to-school, especially after a long holiday can be stressful time for children and parents alike.

It is normal for nearly all children to experience mild back-to-school jitters that gradually diminish over few weeks, yet, there are anxiety symptoms that persist beyond the first few weeks of school, in which case, clinical consultation is required.

Parents should therefore know the difference between normal back-to-school jitters and anxieties that warrant clinical attention. Many children, for example, display some difficulty separating from their parents to attend school.

However, tantrums when separating, problems sleeping alone or refusal to attend activities without parents may suggest a problem requiring intervention. Likewise, some shyness or worry about schedules, schoolwork or friends is natural during the back-to-school transition, but ongoing withdrawal or worries may signal a problem.

For children that are experiencing normal back-to-school anxiety, it will be helpful for parents to establish a routine before the actual resumption date. This is because going back to school signals the return of the ultimate routine for school children and parents as well.

Beyond re-establishing healthy and waking schedules, well-kept routines like homework, after-school activities and mealtimes can help students focus on being prepared for school and equally help families get back into the swing of balancing academics and social lives.

“It is also important that parents always remember that one size does not fit all. A variety of factors may influence the impact of going back to school and any corresponding anxiety that a child feels.  Whether it is a kindergartner starting full-day school or a middle schooler transitioning to using a locker for the first time, it is important to recognise that not every child will have the same reactions to new situations.

Parents therefore should ensure that each child gets the kind of individualised support he or she needs. In rendering support to school children experiencing back-to-school phobia, parents should endeavor to consider different milestones to accommodate children moving to different classes, different schools or different social dynamics so that every child is met at the circumstances surrounding the changes being experienced, rather than forcing their perspectives and fears onto the children.”

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