By Jess Allen
The start of a new year can feel like a fresh start, but for many children heading back to school it can lead to significant anxiety. Transitions and change are hard for most people but especially for our littlest ones. After a long summer holiday, time spent with friends and family and maybe even a vacation, kids can feel out of routine, and struggle with the transition back to a 5 day school week. For some young people, going back to school can mean facing bullies, fallouts with friends, body image concerns, and academic difficulties. It can be hard to recognise anxiety in young people as they are less likely to speak up about it, sometimes as they do not recognise it themselves especially when they are on the younger side. Children experiencing anxiety may seem more clingy than usual, be restless or fidgety, have physical symptoms like stomach aches, changes in sleeping and eating habits, have negative thoughts and worries, get upset and angry more easily, cry more and struggle to concentrate. If you are worried about your young person heading back to school, here are some tips to help you support them.
Listen and normalise
As adults when we have problems often we are not looking for advice, or positivity, both of which can be dismissive, but a person to hear us. Active listening is a method where you listen tounderstand and not toreply. Active listening means that you hear what the person is saying to you, attempt to understand it, and reflect back to them what you have heard. When your child or young person is having a hard time try just listening to them, reflecting what they have said back to them, and normalising their feelings. E.g., 13 year old Lisa is worried about returning to school this year because she had a fight with her best friend and is worried they will ignore her at school. Lisa’s dad Akeem listens to her and replies ‘It sounds like you’re worried about your friendship, it must be really hard not to know what will happen. It's normal to have ups and down with friends. I am always here if you want help”.
Chat to your kids about what is important to them
Encouraging your children to connect with their values is a really good way to help them problem solve. Most of the questions we have in life come down to our values; what is important to us, as they help us live meaningful lives. Ask your children/young people what they care about. Ask them how they can make decisions based on what is most important to them. You can do this with younger children as well, it's never to early to start having this conversation. E.g., if your child values friendship and honestly this will help guide them if they are having interpersonal issues. They wont always get it right, no one ever does, but it might help to guide them when they feel lost.
Be a safe person for your children
Remind your children that you are there for them, whether that is in the form of talking, sitting with, or just showing an interest in them. You don’t have to have all the answers, being present is more than enough to provide an environment of safety for your children.
Know when to get professional help
You know your child best, if you are really worried about them it's important to know you can get professional help. There are phone help lines such as Parent Line (each state has its own service) which provides support to parents of young people between 0-18. Parents can also speak with their GP who can assess young people and offer recommendations such as public mental health options or private psychology/psychiatry.
Australia wide parent help lines:
1800 RESPECT (National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service)
1800 737 732, 24 hours 7 days
Beyond Blue Support Service
1300 224 636, 24 hours, 7 days
Family Relationship Advice Line
1800 050 321, 8 am-8 pm Monday to Friday, 10 am-4 pm Saturday
1800 022 222, 24 hours 7 days
1800 551 800, 24 hours 7 days
131 114, 24 hours 7 days
Sane Australia Mental Health Helpline
1800 187 263, 10 am-10 pm Monday to Friday
Jessica is a clinical psychologist located in Melbourne and she's one of our talented 8-Week Program experts. She specialises in young people and parents going through the perinatal stage, while also helping patients manage depression, anxiety, personality disorders, relationship difficulties, eating disorders and trauma. With experience across clinical and educational settings, Jessica is now working with Orygen Digital in digital mental health program planning and implementation.
Jessica believes in a holistic approach to mental health that takes diet and lifestyle into account. She understands the monumental impact sugar can have on us and is dedicated to helping people improve their quality of life – starting with what we put on our plates.