Back to School and Childhood Anxiety

childhood anxiety

It's back to school again, which means a lot of kids are worried about what the new school year will mean for them in terms of their teacher, friends, homework, etc. But what if these worries are keeping your child up at night? For more than just one night? Is it normal childhood worries or is it anxiety?

A child would much rather be having fun than feeling sick for reasons they don’t understand and no parent likes to see their child so nervous that they can’t sleep for days on end. Some children feel anxious when it comes to public speaking, for others it could be attending a birthday party, and for some just the thought of having to go back to school is enough to make their head hurt.

Anxiety is more than just worry. It is more than just nervous “butterflies”. If your school age child is constantly clingy, cries or suffers from excessive shyness in social situations; has constant worrying or if bellyaches are frequent then your child may be experiencing anxiety. If your child’s regular routine, such as going to school, going over to a friend’s house or participating in activities is affected then your child may be experiencing anxiety. According to Anxiety BC, anxiety affects about 20% of children and adolescents.

If you think your child is experiencing anxiety you may think it is easiest to look online for help, but sometimes something we read online is not enough. Cheryl Grant, MSW, RSW of C&C Counselling Services says it really also comes down to “assessing what's behind it all and the child's beliefs and family dynamics (especially if parents are also dealing with anxiety).”

In addition to seeking professional assistance, there are some books and websites that are informative when it comes to learning more about childhood worries and anxiety. With Cheryl’s help here are some tried and true resources about childhood anxiety:

Books

Wemberley Worried by Kevin Henkes

This storybook is helpful for younger children. Wemberley is a young mouse who worries about everything, but by the end of the book she realizes that she worries about so much that she has no cause for her worry.

This book is great for young kids who tend to worry about every little thing: will my friends still like me, will I have a good time, etc. It lets them know that worry is normal, but that it shouldn’t get in the way from experiencing new things.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Told through the story of a mother raccoon comforting her child raccoon by kissing its paw before it leaves for school, The Kissing Hand is a great book for younger children who may have separation anxiety or are anxious about leaving their parents on the first day of daycare or school. The message is that their parents will always be with them – even when they are not physically present.

When My worries get too big! A Relaxation Book for Children who live with Anxiety by Kari Dunn

This book teaches children self-calming techniques, including meditation and yoga positions and has some activities that reading-level children can work through to identify their levels of anxiety.

What To Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huber

This book includes activities and promotes valuable discussions between a parent and their child. If you have trouble discussing or understanding childhood anxiety then this book is a great tool to start the conversation as well as to help children identify and fight their worries in a real way.

The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbooks for Kids by Lawrence Shapiro & Robin Sprague

Written by two child therapists, this book contains more than fifty activities kids and parents can do together to help both parents and child replace stressful and anxious feelings with positive feelings. This book includes relaxation techniques and short activities children can do to create a sense of fulfillment and calm. The idea in this workbook is not only for the child to feel calm, but also for the parents to reduce their feelings of stress and overwhelm. 

Websites

7 Ways to Help Anxious Kids

http://lets-explore.net/blog/2010/02/7-ways-to-help-anxious-kids/

Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada - Childhood Anxiety

http://www.anxietycanada.ca/english/childhood.php

Anxiety BC Website (there is a section devoted to parent and child, but they also speak to resources for youth, etc.) 

https://www.anxietybc.com/parenting/parent-child

Anxiety in children is more common than you think and chances are a child in your life is suffering. Children can suffer from a variety of anxiety disorders, some of which are the same as what adults suffer from. Various situations can bring on the intense feelings associated with anxiety – and sometimes it is difficult for the child, let alone their parents to know what those situations are and what they can do to help. If you are concerned that your child may be experiencing anxiety, the first step is to talk to be supportive and contact your family doctor about getting assistance from a mental health professional. Rest assured that children can overcome anxiety with the right tools and support.

Simple Tools for Parents whose Children have Anxiety

child hugging

It is interesting that what makes you worry is the same thing that stops you from living your life to the fullest. It is moving into the future or moving out of the moment. Living in the present can be a present to someone who is living with fear, worry or anxiety.

Worries, fears and anxieties come from thoughts of the past or future. In separating yourself from these thoughts you are able to replace them with a more positive or peaceful way of being. The same principles are used to end the effects of anxiety and master your life.

Children can get into a way of seeing the world that brings them unwanted feelings. This may come from having parents who grew up with fear or anxiety or from other beliefs that they have formed.

Parents may fear they are not offering everything they can to their children. They may fear for the future success of their children or for the safety of their children. This shows that you are a concerned parent and want the best for your child. This desire, tools and some consistency will allow your children to move away from anxiety and enjoy the moments in their life.

When my son was in grade two he missed more than half of the school year because he was to anxious to participate or even attend. I realized that both my husband and I grew up feeling quite anxious. My husband felt like he really needed to protect our children and keep them safe and I never wanted to put our children in a situation where they felt uncomfortable for fear of them experiencing difficult feelings.

It wasn’t easy but the first thing we did was to confront our own fears and get ourselves into a place of personal strength so we could be supportive. At the same time we found ways to help him live in the present.

He is now in grade eight, living without anxiety as a self proclaimed positive tween. He has a few remarkable insights on the topic: I always knew that I didn’t have to worry but I didn’t know how, I know that life just keeps getting better and better and what is the worst that can happen?

The first step to any change that you want to see in life is awareness and as a parent you must start with looking at your self. You can do this by answering these questions: Why am I concerned about my child’s worries, fear or anxiety? Where do these concerns come from? What can I change so I am not projecting these feelings onto my child? How can I grow?

The next step is to look at your child and your hopes for them and you can do this by asking these questions: How is this affecting my child’s life? How do I want my child to feel?

Equipped with this information you have put yourself in a place where you can make some change. There are so many tools that you can use to separate yourself from these thoughts and worries including: becoming aware of them, mindfulness, separating your worry brain, changing your focus to a fun challenge, and increasing your positive energy throughout the day.

You can raise your positive energy throughout the day with any relaxation technique, by exercising, listening to music or by doing an energy exercise. Here is a link to a 17 second energy exercise video that helps by getting your energy moving across your body:

Kaeli Van Regan is the founder of Living Inside Out. I combine my love of life and nature with education in Child and Youth Work, Life Coaching and Energy Healing to provide coaching to expand yourself and uplift your family. I live in beautiful Old Ottawa East with my husband and three children. There are tips and tools on the website www.livinginsideout.ca with a lot more coming in the next couple of months as information comes out about my upcoming book and program Parenting Your Way.

Twitter: @kaeli_van

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