Is your child having a hard time right now? More meltdowns at home, tummy aches, trouble sleeping, not wanting to go to school, issues in the classroom? It could be end of the school year anxiety.
Most of us parents think that back-to-school is the most anxiety producing time of year for kids. In my experience working with parents, the end of the year is worse.
The fear of the unknown coupled with well-meaning teachers’ attempts to prepare children for next year can make anxiety skyrocket at this time of the year. This is especially common in transition years, such as kindergarten to first grade, or elementary to middle school, but can happen any time.
If you are getting calls from school or wondering what the heck is going on with your child, here’s what you can do.
Recognize that it could be anxiety.
Anxiety is the brain and body’s response to a perceived threat or overwhelm. This results in the fight-flight-or-freeze reaction. We typically think of anxiety as the flight or freeze reactions. For example, your child might be refusing to go to school, having a meltdown when you try to leave, or not listening to the teacher. But anxiety is also the fight response. So a child who normally gets along well with their classmates might be suddenly biting and hitting. (Here’s a great article about anxiety and aggression. The website also is a great one generally for anxiety.)
Empathize with your child.
Try saying something like this: “Changes are always a little hard, aren’t they? It’s so exciting that you’re going to have a new teacher and maybe some new friends! At the same time, it can be really hard to not know what it’s going to be like! I understand. I felt like that too sometimes when I was your age.”
Your child may or may not recognize that they are having a hard time because they are anxious about next year. You can still say, “I wonder if you’re feeling a little nervous about next year? It’s hard to make changes isn’t it?”
When you acknowledge your child’s feelings, they may feel better just knowing that you get it. Or it’s possible that your child has some stored up feelings about this and needs to cry. (see below!)
Normalize their fears.
My mentor in all things anxiety, Lynn Lyons, says the most important phrase in her practice is “Of course!”
“Of course you’re feeling nervous about next year! Everyone gets nervous about a new teacher or new school.”
Let them know they can handle it!
We don’t know either what next year will hold, but we will be there to support them through anything that might arise.
Anxiety loves certainty. We need to help our anxious children get comfortable with the unknown. “We don’t know yet who your teacher will be or who will be in your class. Yes, first grade is different than kindergarten. And you know what? You are a person who can do hard things! I know you’ll be able to handle whatever happens and I’ll be right here to support you however I can!”
If your child is still having a hard time, make sure they are laughing and crying. Laughter and tears help to get rid of the fears and big feelings that they are carrying around. 10 minutes of laughing before school every day can work wonders. (need ideas to get them laughing? I have a free guide with lots of roughhousing ideas from other parents.)
If you find that your child’s anxiety is not limited to the end of the year, you might want to use the Worry Brain strategy. (I wrote about helping my daughter with her anxiety using the Worry Brain strategy here.)
Try to remember that your child is doing the best they can (even though it feels like they’re giving you a hard time!) The more you understand what is going on, the more you can help with this tricky time of year. Let us know what’s helping you over in the Facebook group!
Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 13, 16, and 20). Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to, “We’ve got this!”
Find her at sarahrosensweet.com