More Common Than You Think
My child was particularly nervous about starting school this year. He’s attending the same school and nothing has changed in our family or socially for him. He’s entering the firth grade, so he will be one of the oldest at school. I thought he’d be more excited and less anxious. Any advice?
– A worried mom
Often in the office when I peek into a young child’s ears looking for an infection (or potatoes, as I tell them), I say here comes a tickle. No, I’m not trying to fool them nor am I misleading them. I’m just changing their perception and expectations. Looking in an ear and tickling are both uncomfortable sensations. One is considered unpleasant, the other not.
If they are less afraid and expecting something like a tickle, then that is what they will perceive. It is sort of like the adage “Is the glass half full or half empty.” Both are true, but only one view leaves us feeling good!
In the same way, anxiety and excitement are cousins separated only by our expectations.
Because your child is older, they are more perceptive and aware of their world. Returning to school is exciting. At the same time it brings thoughts of homework, getting up early and reconnecting with their classmates. It means new things as well as old familiar ones. The excitement you anticipate may easily be the anxiety they feel.
Anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing. It motivates us and can give that extra energy which gets us through a challenging situation. Only when the anxiety takes over and impairs our ability to do something is it a problem. The problem is a common one, but not often shared or talked about.
Some things you can do to help your children:
– Reassure them that their anxiety is normal and OK.
– Help them channel their anxiety into something more productive.
– Help them get involved in an activity at school. Encourage them to make their lunch, pack their backpack or anything else that gives them more responsibility.
– Help them get involved with friends. An important part of school is the socialization (they call it play!) your child participates in.
– Make sure they are not over tired.
– Don’t rush, especially in the morning. Your children can’t move as fast as you can getting ready physically or emotionally. They need more time to prepare.
– Talk to them about what is coming up and how they think the next day or event will go. Their anxieties may be over something you’re not thinking of.
– Help your children set realistic expectations. Setting them too high leads to a higher risk of failure while setting them too low may result in inevitable disappointment.
A more serious problem, but still common, is “school phobia.” Typically seen in children ages 8 to 13, their anxiety of going to school is overwhelming. Symptoms of sudden illness, crying and withdrawal are usually present. It can be a real challenge to get the child to school, especially as your own guilt about putting them through something so uncomfortable creeps in. The most important thing is to keep them moving and get them to school!
If the problem is simply too much, or you’re unsure if they are truly ill, bring them in to see their doctor, preferably that same day. With time, reassurance and confidence building, the problem usually goes away. In the very difficult cases, counseling and even medication may be recommended.
Hang in there. Don’t let your child’s anxiety raise yours. Have a great year!
Next week, Bonnie Baker, a third-year medical student from the University of Rochester School of Medicine in Rochester, N.Y., will help me write answers to your questions. Bonnie will be here through mid September doing a family medicine rotation with me. Then, she will head back to Rochester with fond farewells!
Please keep your questions coming in! The only bad question is the unanswered one!
Remember your health is your responsibility! Health is our greatest asset and it doesn’t happen by accident. If something doesn’t seem right, or questions are left unanswered don’t wait, call your doctor.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.