How can we help children with their back-to-school worries? Because here in the UK, we’re going back to school next week.
You’ll get three tips: The first one is to do with ourselves. The second one is to do with conversations about feelings. And the third one is to do with practical steps for creating predictability and safety.
Watch the video or scroll down to read more…
The first step is this: look after yourself and your needs. Grounded, well-regulated adults are essential for grounded, well-regulated children – our feelings rub off on them.
We know this now through the science of mirror neurons. And we can feel it, we can see it in our day-to-day experience: children take their cue from us.
And also, when we’re grounded and well regulated, we show up in a different way. We’re available for connection. And connection is the key to helping children with anxiety. When we’re really connected, difficult feelings tend to diminish.
I was on a group call last week with some of the mums I work with, and one of them had flagged up an issue with her son who was washing his hands so frantically that they were actually quite getting quite sore. And so I made time to talk to her about this. But then she said, “No, actually, it’s fine. I’ve got it, I know what’s happened. I just got very busy again,” she said, “I’ve been rushing onto Zoom calls. And I imagine he’s been feeling a little bit lost. I know what to do. I just need to slow down and be there for him more.”
I love this mum’s clarity. I loved her wisdom, too.
#2. Conversations around feelings
When children’s difficult feelings are embraced, understood and supported by us as parents, it’s a huge help. It helps these feelings to dissipate. You might be thinking, “Yes, but my child doesn’t like talking about feelings. Anytime I initiate that kind of conversation, they just shut down and won’t talk about it.”
I hear this a lot. And it might have one of two causes: When I see parents having this kind of conversation with children, I see them go into one of two modes. The first one is needy mode, where we go, “Tell me what’s wrong. I need you to tell me so that I can help you.” Or we go into fix-it mode, or we say, “Don’t worry, it’s fine, you’re going to be fine.” And neither of these modes are terribly inviting to a conversation around feelings.
So what does invite a conversation around feelings?
Well, there are several ways to go about this, but I’m going to give you a couple of examples.
It begins with curiosity about what our children might be feeling. Not trying to fix them, not needing to know, but becoming curious and saying something like, “I’ve been wondering how you might be feeling about going back to school next week.
“Maybe it feels very strange to be suddenly seeing so many people when it’s only been us for so long. And maybe you’re wondering about how things are going to be, like whether you’ll have to wear a mask.”
And keep gently inquiring and being curious. It helps also to reflect beforehand on how they might be feeling.
I’d like to give you one more way into a conversation to help with anxious feelings:
Sometimes, children will get stuck in a loop of anxious thinking. They’ve got intrusive thoughts that won’t go away. This happened to my son a couple of weeks ago. He’s working on a project, and he complained of having obsessive thoughts around it. And I said, “Well, you know, I can help you.”
He’s 16, by the way, and he didn’t respond. I took that as a green light.
I said, “I’d need to ask you quite a number of questions.”
And he said, “No, I don’t want that.”
I said, “But they’re not very personal questions.” So then he fell silent. I took that as another green light and started asking him.
I said, “When you’re stuck in that loop, where do you feel it in your body? Do you feel it in your head, your throat, your shoulders?”
And he said, after reflecting, looking inside, “I feel it in my shoulders.”
And so I said, “Well, how big is that feeling?” I asked him, “What shape is it?”
“How heavy is it?”
“What colour is it?”
As I asked each of these questions, there was a silence as he went to check, so to speak. And after I’d asked a number of these questions, he suddenly switched topic.
I took it that the work was done, because he went on to talk about something completely different. It had worked, and he didn’t bring it up again.
#3. How can we create security in practical ways?
There are three parts to this:
1) The first is that, when we’re talking about what’s coming up in the week ahead, we talk about what we do know, and don’t focus on what we don’t know yet. You can say you’ll figure the unknowns out as you go along.
Don’t talk about any anxieties you might have as an adult – that won’t be helpful.
Focus on the certainty of what you do expect to be happening this week, or what’s happening at the weekend, and what you do know about going back to school.
2) Number two is to create predictability, by having a rhythm that repeats itself, day after day, and doing that same thing at a similar time each day. And also, if something different is coming up, perhaps you have a zoom call at four o’clock, tell your child that at breakfast time, so that they can prepare.
3) And the third thing you might like to consider is to practise going back to school. You can literally do the things that you normally do to get ready for school as a kind of practise, in order to make them familiar again.
You can get into a uniform, make the lunch, you can even do a dry run of the journey to school. So that when next Monday comes, and you’re actually going through the school gates, some of the back-to-school routine is more familiar again.
So to summarise, start with yourself, have conversations about feelings, and take practical steps.
Finally, I’d like to recommend my free meditation. It will help your relationship with your child, even if you feel your relationship is good.
It’ll help you connect to your child in such a way that you create a deep connection and the reassurance that comes from being connected.
It’s called Reset Your Relationship with Your Child. And that would be my very final recommendation for addressing these back to school worries.
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