7 Feb 2017

How much back-to-school anxiety is too much?

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:36 pm on 7 February 2017
Teacher and student at Linwood Primary School, Christchurch.

Teacher and student at Linwood Primary School, Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

While many children feel a bit nervous about returning to school, for some it can turn into fully-fledged anxiety.

A Massey University psychologist says parents have a key role in helping kids manage these feelings.

“Some of those threads that kids had at the end of last year socially, and with teachers and just being used to going to school have dropped away a little bit. Sensitive, slightly anxious kids can feel nervous about picking those threads up again – as can parents” says Dr Ross.

So how does a parent know when the nervousness is cause for concern?

Trust your instincts, Dr Ross says, taking careful note of the frequency, intensity and duration of the anxious feelings.

“If [your child is] feeling really anxious all day every day for more than a few days, if you think things aren’t improving and you’re concerned, you’d want to go along and have a chat to your GP.”

Changes in your child’s appetite, sleep patterns and lack of enjoyment of things they usually enjoy could also indicate it’s time to talk to a professional, she says.

Free online resources such as The Worry Bug can be useful to create a narrative in which the child's difficult feelings become a shared concern.

“When you can create a story around this worry that tries to trick your brain and tries to come up with things that upset you during the day, the child can also feel part of a team - Mum and Dad and the teacher are all part of this team to help put this worry bug in its place.”

It can be helpful to simply chat with other parents, says Dr Ross.

“Whenever you’re worried about your child, keep talking to people about it.”

Dr Kirsty Ross is senior clinical psychologist and lecturer at Massey's Psychology Clinic.

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