When you think about school starting in the next couple of weeks, what kind of feelings come up for you? What kinds of feelings come up for your child?
For me, if my son was entering a transition year, like kindergarten, middle school or a new school, the beginning of the school year was especially challenging. Every year brought a change with a new teacher, a new classroom and new kids that were in his class with him. I wanted to make sure he had nutritious meals to eat during the day, had at least one friend to rely on and that he felt confident and comfortable without me right by his side. Helping him prepare mentally for the schedule change created some stress.
At this time of year it is common for kids to get butterflies in their stomach, worried that they won’t know anyone in their class, how nice the teacher will be, or maybe just being able to find their classroom. Quite often their summer was filled with lots of FUN activities, lots of play-time, and getting to stay up later than usual, so having to go to bed early and having relaxing summer days taken away can be a stressful adjustment.
After having to deal with these stresses throughout years of schooling, I wish I would have done more to help him BRAVE through these moments of stress.
Here are 10 WAYS I have since learned to BRAVE back to school stress.
#1. Take Your Own Temperature. How are you feeling? Face it, if momma is stressed and worried, everyone in the house feels it. If your children see that you are worried about the new school year and its changes, they will worry too. You need to make sure you are getting enough sleep, self-care and nutrition in your diet. When you are feeling optimal, it will be much easier to help your children feel their best too.
#2. Listen, Hug and Empathize. It’s okay for children to be worried about going back-to-school. Rather than dismissing their fears, (“Nothing to be worried about! You’ll be fine!”) listening to them and acknowledging their feelings will help them feel more secure.
Sometimes we underestimate the power of human touch. Physical touch releases oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, and reduces cortisol, a stress hormone. A long hug can help comfort an anxious child in the moment and restore a feeling of calm.
It also helps to empathize with your child during that hug. It’s perfectly normal to experience stress and anxiety, and anxious children need to hear this often. Whisper empathic statements, hold your child tight and wait for the physical symptoms to subside. Once your child is calm you can also talk about the fact that giving yourself a hug or holding your own hand (by clasping your hands together) can actually help you control the physical symptoms of stress.
#3. Write it down; tear it up. Kids need time to vent their feelings, but they also need to learn how to get their anxious thoughts out on their own. They need strategies they can use at school or any other time they are feeling anxious.
Writing down anxious feelings is a great way to vent those negative emotions on paper. Encourage your child to write down his anxious thoughts and then tear them up and throw them away. The process of getting it down on paper and tearing up the paper helps kids symbolically throw away their worries for the moment. Sure, those worries might come back another time, but once kids learn that they can overcome them by bossing them back and throwing them out, they feel greater control over their anxious feelings.
#4. Do Some Test Runs. If your child seems to be overly nervous about the first day of school, give him time to get used to the new school or new classroom in advance. You could go to the school several times, if needed before school starts and walk the halls, locate his classroom, the bathroom, the cafeteria, the playground, etc. Repetition is good and makes new things more comfortable and easier to deal with.
#5. Reframing Positive Self-Talk. Kids can learn to boss back their worries by reframing their thoughts and using self-talk to feel empowered. While it might feel strange for kids to talk to themselves at first, bossing back their worries in an assertive voice helps kids gain control over their anxious thoughts.
Practicing self-talk is easy and can be fun for kids. Follow these steps to work on bossing back those pesky worries:
- State the anxious thought
- Talk about why that thought keeps popping up
- Come up with a reasonable counter statement
- Boss it back
If a child is afraid of dogs, for example, practicing might look like this:
Dogs are scary because dogs bite.
I once saw a dog bite someone and that scared me.
Dogs can be friendly and are soft to pet.
Stop it worry brain! I’m not afraid of dogs! My friend has a friendly dog and I know I will be safe near that dog.
Another example: your child voices a fear that the kids in his class don’t like him. Why does he think this? Because a boy in class laughed when he didn’t know the answer, and now he is scared that his classmates think he is dumb. Help him break down the reality of his situation: “I answer questions in class every day. A friend always sits with me at lunch. I play with my friends at recess.” Now reframe the situation: “It hurt my feelings when the boy laughed, but I have other good friends in my class.”
#6. Deep Breathing. Help them know they’ve got this!
Kids are often told to take a deep breath when they feel anxious but learning to use deep breathing effectively actually requires practice. Daily deep breathing, especially when kids are calm, helps kids learn to control their breathing on their own. When they’re anxious or under stress, using deep breathing will slow their heart rate and regulate their physical responses to anxious feelings.
Adding a visual to deep breathing makes it more fun for kids and helps them remember what to do when they are under stress. Try these two strategies to practice deep breathing in your home:
- Balloon breathing:Ask your child to close her eyes and picture herself blowing up a balloon. First, she should choose the color for her balloon. Second, explain that blowing too hard or too fast will cause the balloon to pop right out of her mouth. To inflate the balloon, she needs to inhale and exhale slowly. Third, cue her to breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and exhale into her balloon for a count of four. Repeat three times. Finally, ask her to “write” one worry on that balloon and let it fly off into the sky.
- Rainbow breathing: This strategy often appeals to older elementary children. Have your child lie down on the floor in a comfortable position and play some relaxing music in the background. Cue your child to inhale, hold, and exhale while you count out loud, but add one color per breath. Tell your child that when she takes a red breath, you want her to visualize as many happy red things as she can (e.g. strawberries, watermelon, kites, etc.) Repeat for all seven colors of the rainbow. Talk about the rainbow or relaxing things she created while working on her breathing.
One great way to practice deep breathing is to use the Stop, Breathe, & Think Kids app each night before bed. This app takes kids through guided meditation in short increments to help them understand and practice mindfulness for feeling calm.
Taking strong, deep breaths that come from your belly. You can pair this with a calming essential oil roller bottle from doTERRA’s Kid’s Oil Collection and it’s even more effective. I highly suggest Brave in this instance.
#7. Get moving. The fuel surging through your child during anxious moments is there to make him strong, fast and powerful. If it doesn’t get burned up, it will build up, and that’s when it feels bad. Daily exercise can help reduce the body’s physical response to feeling anxious. One study found that kids who practice yoga not only experience the uplifting effects of exercise immediately following the workout, but that the results last long after they are finished.
Kids also benefit from playing on team sports, taking exercise classes, and simply taking a walk through the park. Going for a nature walk, be it a hike along a trail or a walk through your neighborhood, helps kids reconnect with the world, calm anxious thoughts, and practice mindfulness.
#8. Make a List of Affirmations. When your child is calm and the thinking part of his brain is in control, help him make a list of positive affirmations that he can refer to when anxious thoughts arise. Here are some ideas:
- I am brave. I am strong. I’m okay.
- My friends are at school and they care about me.
- I am healthy and happy.
- I am going to do fun things at school.
- I am brave and I can handle school, no matter what.
Anchoring affirmations with the BRAVE Touch and STRONGER Touch will help his brain to remember to feel confident, calm and courageous every time he smells it, PLUS help him keep his immune system strong and healthy.
#9. Get back to basics. Your anxious child doesn’t need to play every sport and attend every party, but he does need to slow down and focus on his basic health needs:
- Sleep –using the Calmer Touch from the Kids collection will enhance your child to get a good night’s sleep.
- Healthy meals- we lack getting all the nutrients we need even from a healthy diet so adding a multivitamin and probiotics (PB ASSIST JR) will ensure getting the essentials your child needs to help him feel more focused and happy, PLUS keep his immune system healthy!
- Plenty of water
- Downtime to decompress
- Outdoor free play
- Daily exercise (think riding bikes, playing at the park, etc.)– I love complementing the Calmer Touch with Rescuer Touch at night to help soothe those active, growing bodies and provide relief from hurting or being sore.
#10. Help Your Child Build a Coping Kit. If you want to empower your child to work through his worries, you have to help him learn a variety of coping skills. One thing that helps anxious kids is having a concrete list of strategies to use in a moment of anxiety. While some can memorize a list of strategies, others might need to write them down.
- Deep breathing
- Stress ball
- Write it out
- Talk back to worries and reframe thoughts
- Using Affirmations and essential oils
- Get help from an adult
I highly suggest powerful books that will help your children work through their stressful feelings and learn how to use healthy coping skills to feel calm and happy! The first is called, “Hey Warriors” by Karen Young. It is a book she wrote for children to help them understand anxious feelings and to find their ‘brave’. It explains why they feel anxious, and it will teach them how they can ‘be the boss of their brains’ during times of anxiousness, to feel calm. It helps them understand why it works in a fun, simple, way that helps things make sense.
The second book I highly l recommend is “Emotional Superpowers” by Pam Robinson and Rachelle Castor. It is an interactive book that helps children increase their ability to practice managing stress and anger by incorporating tools like essential oils, meditating, yoga, affirmations, and more on a routine basis.
Remember, Anxious Feelings and Courage Exist Together. Remind your children that when they feel anxious it means that they are doing something brave. It doesn’t matter whether it’s easy for other people or not. We all find different things hard or easy. If you’re anxious, it’s because your brain thinks there’s something to worry about. It responds the same whether you’re about to give a presentation or about to skydive. It doesn’t matter what the thing is that’s making you nervous, an anxious brain is a BRAVE brain, an anxious body is a BRAVE body, and an anxious person is always a BRAVE person. Helping children learn skills that they can make into habits will help them BRAVE the stresses they face in going back to school, as well as any other stressful time in life. Empower them now so they are ready when those times come, because one thing is for sure…they WILL!
*If you’d like to purchase any of the products talked about in this post, you can get them HERE.