Resiliency Tips That They Can Take Into Adulthood
The first day of school can be frightening. It’s a new place, new people, new buildings to navigate, and new rules to learn. There are so many unknowns. For each child, the questions and anxiety are different. Whether it’s about missing home, or not knowing what to do or where to go, or the awkward phase of making new friends, it’s no surprise that our kids can feel some anxieties about this; it’s a lot. Even some adults google new places ahead of time to make sure they know what to expect; why should we expect anything braver from our kids.
As parents, we want to move mountains to make sure our kids never feel stress or pain, but logically we also know that it’s a part of life. The best thing we can do is set them up with tips, tricks, and tools to manage the tough times. They need to learn coping mechanisms to build into lifelong tools for resiliency. You can find plenty of ways on Pinterest to deal with back-to-school nerves, like sprinkling a pinch of worry-glitter under their pillow for the worry fairy to take away or bracelets or songs. But at the end of the day, we need to be teaching our children how to cope- not ways to pretend the feelings will disappear with magic. They won’t. It’s cute and an excellent idea to use alongside other ways, but we need to teach our kids to cope with big feelings without us walking them through a magic scenario. As teens and adults, we can’t hold their hands, so we need to set them up for successfully managing independently.
Often, especially with younger kids, they don’t know what they’re feeling and can’t articulate well enough that the weirdness they’re experiencing is worry. It may manifest in sleepless nights, being extra tearfulness, tummy aches, or rule-breaking. During times of change, any out-of-character behavior could be a sign of worry or anxiety. As a parent, you can often guess the scenario and know that the tummy aches the night before school is butterflies or that an out-of-character sleepless night is probably a worry. However, it can be hard to understand how to help them and what to do or say when they can’t articulate the feeling. Here are a few tips and things to remember and say as our kids embark on a new school year.
Tips for working through it with them:
1) Validate their feelings.
Perhaps they can’t articulate the feelings, but you can probably guess. Start with validating the emotions they’re having, and they’ll start to understand them and maybe even share what the direct worry is. I’m worried I won’t make friends, for example.
2) Talk about what worry is.
Explain a little about worry. Everyone worries. It’s a normal part of life. The purpose of fear is to protect us (depending on your child’s age, feel free to dive into the fight-or-flight response). But sometimes, worry is a false alarm. There is nothing to fear, but our brain doesn’t know that yet.
Remember that during times of high anxiety, some kids won’t understand the logic, or their emotions are too heightened to think clearly. So don’t push this conversation if you believe the logical brain isn’t able to fire. During anxiety, we have a quick onslaught of chemicals that trigger our emotional response, resulting in our prefrontal cortex (the logical thinker) getting over-ridden.
Remember this when your child may seem unreasonable or unable to think clearly- it’s not a choice. It’s a part of their brain taking over.
3) Allow them to sit with the feeling.
Worries can’t be pushed away too quickly or easily, we all need to sit in those uncomfortable spaces sometimes, and kids are no different. But, by sitting with those uncomfortable feelings rather than moving on and pretending they’re not relevant, we allow ourselves to feel a separation between self and the feeling. Kristin Bell recently explained it well, she said that “the feelings are just passing through us,” and she asks her kids, “Do you want a solution to this problem you’re crying about, or do you just want to let this feeling pass through you?” What a beautiful way of simply explaining how sitting in your emotions teaches you that feelings come and go, and they aren’t who we are. Feelings are not facts.
Tools to teach them:
1) Change the what-if to what-is.
This is probably the most well-known mindfulness technique, and for a good reason. It’s important to teach our kids to be present. Being aware of the moment we’re living is not only a healthy and positive mindset to live in, but it’s scientifically proven to ease anxiety (as well as a long list of other benefits). Have them switch from saying “what -if” to “what is” what is happening right now: we’re at home, safe, and together. We are happy; we are healthy etc. At this moment, the only moment that matters is this one, and I am fine.
2) Flip It.
Take the uncomfortable thoughts; what if I don’t make friends and flip it! What’s the flip side of that? Maybe you will make a best friend for life, or perhaps you’ll see someone you already know. It’s simple, take the negative thought or worry and flip it into a positive.
3) Take a deep breath.
Teach your child to put their hands on their belly, take a deep breath in, and feel their belly rise. Then slowly release the breath through their mouth, letting all of the worries and butterflies in their belly escape with their breath.
Learning ways to manage nerves and anxiety is a skill they’ll take with them through the teen years and into adulthood. The younger we teach them these tools, the better they’ll use them to help themselves when needed. However, it’s important to remember we’re talking about back-to-school nerves, not high-level anxiety, which parents need to recognize and differentiate between (you know your child best). If your child seems to have signs of unmanageable anxiety, then it’s best to speak with your family doctor about the most appropriate steps to take for your child.