This article was written by David Bjorkgren. It was originally published on August 20, 2020 by MontcoToday.
As the new school year rapidly approaches, school districts are facing new expectations and questions about what lies ahead.
Schools and communities have banded together to determine the best approach to navigating this challenging time, to make the best decisions for every child.
One key discussion centers around how parents and educators can work together to address increased anxiety students will feel when they return to school this fall.
The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC), a leading provider of counseling services in the Greater Philadelphia Area, has a long history of working with school districts to support students struggling with anxiety, depression and past or current trauma.
Through its Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) program, TLC helps children feel safe at home and in school.
“As PBIS coaches, our primary goal are to ensure the students we serve have safe learning environments that eliminate their anxieties and enable them to achieve academic success,” said Jodi Erwin, a Positive Behavior Coach at Norristown School District.
“Schools in Montgomery County are starting back up in many different forms this year, so it is more important than ever that we facilitate the best possible transition for each student and actively work to identify and address signs of anxiety.”
Anxiety can manifest as “good stress” and “bad stress.” Good stress keeps students motivated and builds self-efficacy and resilience. Bad stress is usually fear-based and interrupts daily behaviors and thoughts.
Depending on their age, children exhibit anxiety differently.
A younger child may demonstrate a lack of emotional regulation, bed-wetting, nail-biting or even changes in eating and sleeping habits.
An older child experiences physical anxiety, such as muscle tension and cramps, headaches, stomachaches, chest pain and prolonged or intense worry.
Erwin has suggestions for parents to help their children manage anxiety during the new school year.
Age appropriate communication
Take time daily to discuss the day with your children. Parents can learn lot during these conversations. Active listening plays a key role in learning how to communicate with each child.
After giving your child an opportunity to talk about their school day uninterrupted, try using appropriate language your child understands. With a little practice, these skills can help you determine your child’s immediate needs or help you recognize when more support is needed.
Take regular breaks
If your children are not attending school in person five days a week, homeschooling can become quite stressful for you and your children.
Try scheduling a break if your child becomes overwhelmed. Introducing a new setting or activity can shift behaviors and thoughts to improve performance, promote positive well-being and reduce stress.
Establish a firm schedule and healthy habits
Firm schedules at home establish healthy habits and expectations, creating a calmer learning environment.
This emphasis on structure is part of the reason school settings are successful. During scheduled lunch breaks or study breaks, be sure to make time for creativity to allow for some variety and excitement for students.
Teaching your children about the value of healthy eating, consistent sleep practices and being organized will equip them with tools to reduce their anxiety.
During the summer, such behaviors often fade, but these habits are beneficial, especially during the school year. Your students will be able to focus and maintain a set schedule when healthy best practices are established.
Utilize external resources
Ask your school about external resources that are in place to support your children.
Even in a remote environment, many schools continue lunch programs that are often free to children.
Counselors and other educational supports may be available through schools and community-based organizations.
There are useful internet resources and libraries that your school can help you identify to aid your students’ learning and alleviate their anxiety.
In addition to schools, engaging friends and family members may be a great way to learn about available resources in your community.
If you notice any of the signs or symptoms of anxiety in your child, consider trying some of these suggestions.
Though anxiety in students can present itself in many different ways, it is imperative for parents and schools to work together so that every student in our community has the support they need to overcome their challenges and achieve success throughout the school year.
By Jodi Ervin, MA