Having the pressure to perform well at school can cause anxiety in children. With school starting back up, that means your child is at risk of experiencing some form of anxiety. Pattie McGilton, infant mental health consultant for the Children’s Coalition of Northeast Louisiana, talks about the signs of back to school anxiety and what to do if your child experiences it.
On what it is like to feel anxiety
Anxiety is actually a chemical response when the brain dumps extra chemicals in your body. So, what happens in anxiety is we feel out of control. We feel fear. We feel anxious about things that we can’t control.
On what to look for when searching for signs of anxiety
With school starting, everybody goes through a transition: children, teachers and parents. You may see your children asking a lot of excessive questions or constantly seeking validation. They really do have some real physical ailments such as headaches, stomachaches or nausea. Those are some of the things you see. It’s really more about the pattern of when those are occurring, so you look at is it happening before school or before an event. That’s when you start to pick up on the signs that this is more than just a stomachache.
Sleep issues are a big thing. They either are sleeping all the time, having distracting sleep or not sleeping at all. They show defiance or misbehavior, which is really about fear. They will do anything to avoid an event or an activity they really don’t want to do, so you may see a child act out, become defiant, angry and avoidant. They just start avoiding doing the things they don’t like.
On what to do if you see signs of anxiety in your child
The main thing to understand is that anxiety is real. It’s very real to the person that’s experiencing it. We tend to reassure them that it’s going to be okay, you’re safe, but that really falls on deaf ears because they simply cannot hear you in that moment of anxiety. There’s too many chemicals going through their body that they don’t a have control of, and they really just can’t use logic like we want them to. A Lot of people say use feel, and that means to freeze. Take some deep breathes, empathize with your child and understand that these are real feelings and emotions to them. Evaluate it with them finding solutions, and then just let it go. That’s really for the parent to just let it go because you are an amazing parent, and you’re trying to help your child through this.
These are things that they are going to experience and just understand that worrying is not all bad. Worry is actually a protective factor that we have built in. So, help your children understand that some worry is natural and normal. It’s your alarm system that’s already there. Avoid avoiding it. A lot of time as parents we say that you don't have to go to this or to that, but once you start avoidng it, it becomes easier and easier to avoid it. It doesn't mean the anxiety goes away.