Back To School Jittersby Clinicians at Ganey Counseling on 08/25/15
Back to School Jitters
I remember lying in my bed the night before the first day of school, tossing and turning in my half state of sleep as my thoughts ruminated on how the next day would unfold. For the most part I enjoyed school and sometimes, come the end of summer, I even looked forward to it. There was, however, always that bit of anxiety that plagued me just before the first day.
It is normal for all kids, and let's face it, even adults that are returning to school, to experience some anxiety. For those who tend to struggle with anxiety on a regular basis, however, the feelings of anxiety are much more likely to become overwhelming.
Young children that are returning to school might have some anxiety about being away from mom and dad all day. They are still getting adjusted to the routines of school and are perhaps concerned as well about their teachers and whether or not they will be nice. Teens who are returning to school are perhaps the most likely to experience anxiety, however, the reason is likely to be a bit different. While young children tend to focus on the attachment to their parents, teens begin to move away from this and focus on their attachment to their peers. It is through their peer relationships that they get feedback about themselves; they are looking to their peers to find an answer to their question, "Am I okay?" This can be most frustrating to parents because regardless of how many times you encourage and support your teen, it's not necessarily your acceptance that they are looking for.
So… how can you support your anxious teen?
1) Get them involved in after-school activities.
The benefits are two-fold. If your child does extracurricular activities it is likely that those activities include some type of art, music, or exercise. All three of these things are useful and beneficial in decreasing anxiety. In addition, getting them involved in something enjoyable that they are good will likely increase their confidence and their proximity to like-minded peers.
2) Find a mentor or counselor.
I recently learned of a young man who used to go to youth group at his church every week. The young man's dad actually paid one of the youth leaders hang out with his son for an extra 15 minutes at the end of every week. While shooting hoops the two got to talk and only later did the young man realize that those 15 minutes, once a week, truly changed his life. Sometimes having another adult to talk to, besides mom and dad, can be just what is needed.
Although this is last on the list, it is perhaps the most important. Often times when teens are struggling a parent's first inclination is to want to fix the problem or convince the teen not to worry. Before a teen is ready to listen to you they want to first know that you've heard them. 1) Hear them out 2) check in with them to make sure you heard them correctly 3) Empathize - put into words what it would be like to be in their shoes. Then, and only then, if appropriate, encourage them in how to face the things that are troubling them.
Submitted by: Sarah Loew, MS