It’s back to school time. Do you have a child or teenager who gets nervous about school? It’s a common problem. There are many reasons for their fear. Some kids have performance anxiety and are afraid of the pressure of being called on. Many other kids worry about being judged or bullied by their peers. Others just don’t do well with transitions in general.
Not only is it stressful for your child, it can be incredibly stressful for you as well. Are you wondering how to reduce anxiety for your kids, as you watch them become even more nervous at the prospect of a new semester? You know from experience that you too get jittery when fall approaches, worrying about how they are going to manage with the challenges ahead. So what are five ways you can help them (and yourself) reduce anxiety?
1. Become Less of the Helicopter Parent
Be honest with yourself. Are you practically doing their homework or school projects for them? Do you worry that every sniffle and sneeze is a sign of a bad illness? Do you give in as soon as they seem frustrated when you ask them to do a simple chore? If so, you may be a helicopter parent.
Helicopter parents typically take too much responsibility for their kid’s successes or failures. In this anxious style of parenting, parents focus excessively on their children. They tend to keep hovering around them to help out, even for mundane things. Unfortunately, children model their parent’s anxiety, so despite the best of intentions, helicopter parents tend to have anxious kids.
2. Let Them Build Their Own Muscles for Success
It’s natural to want to support your children, and to make sure that when they are scared, anxious, or uncomfortable, that they experience support. At the same time, it’s crucial to help your children discover that they can endure frustration and discomfort. So how do you do this? It’s about finding that sweet spot: offering care and support without trying to “take away” or “fix” the cause of their distress. It’s about adopting the mentality that some discomfort is okay. Without some growing pains, children won’t learn what they are truly capable of.
When your kids struggle, allow them to be disappointed. Your job is to help them work through it—not to fix the problem for them. This means letting your children do tasks that they are capable of doing, whether physically or mentally. If and when they fail, make yourself available as a resource to encourage and guide them.
3. Praise the Positive
Think of those times in which your children mastered new things (such as learning to read) and managed well with their challenges as they came up. If you’ve been doting a little too much in the past around their struggles, make a point to really notice and comment on the positives. Notice and praise what’s going well, even down to your kids saying “thank you” or “please.” In this way you will be able to start an upwards spiral, in which your kids will slowly but surely become more confident in their own abilities, the foundation of true self esteem.
4. Give Your Children Effective Tools to Reduce Anxiety
We all experience anxiety, but if you think you may be overly anxious, this is a good opportunity to model for your children how to deal successfully with challenging situations. Commit to learning one of the many tried and tested therapeutic tools I teach to manage anxious thoughts and feelings. I have a whole toolkit, and we can customize the tools that will work best for you and your child. The easiest way to start is to practice slow breathing. This will lower your baseline anxiety level, which in turn will help you learn new things more easily. Using deep, calm breathing techniques will work for your children too.
5. Remind Them of Their Past Success and Their Own Inner Resources
Remind your children how they overcame past challenges. Tell them if they did that (name the challenge) they can do this. Be specific when you give examples, e.g., let them know that you believe that they can succeed. Your appraisals not only of the world around you, but of your children’s abilities go a long way in their eyes. Take this as an opportunity to foster the resiliency and self-esteem you want your kids to possess. Yes, life brings with it many challenges, but with self-esteem and resiliency under their (and your) belts, even the momentary falters and mis-steps can be taken in stride.