A new school year brings a mix of excitement and worries: “Will I do well? Will my teacher like me? Where will I sit? Will I be teased on the playground? Will I be invited to someone’s house? ” Such questions will arise more for children who have formerly been bullied or excluded, and may even be kept private.
We all face not being enough at times. Even popular children are anxious returning to school. What are your children’s back-to-school anxieties? Casually ask them while riding in the car and at dinner. Our feeling uncomfortable makes it difficult,parents, but necessary, to broach this hurtful topic. However, We must take steps to help prepare our children for inevitable situations.
Begin these talks in mid-August. That will give you plenty of time to work the conversations in naturally and slowly. Think of potential questions and worries and plan a strategy in advance for each anxiety.
Children don’t know how to identify or address anxieties. It interferes with their listening and processing skills, and the ability to stay focused. If children go to school anxious, they will lose substantial incoming information, especially new information.
After decades of study, I discovered that not being emotionally intelligent hampers the ability to manage emotions and stay present. According to Psychology Today, Emotional Intelligence or its shorthand EQ (the emotional version of IQ), is the “ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.” As a child, I didn’t have the necessary skills to calm anxieties, redirect thoughts and persist despite frustration.
We can’t do much about other people’s behaviors but we can manage our own, creating an inner world that allows us to function, feel emotionally safe and reach our potential. Here are a few helpful hints based on the recognized key emotional intelligence skills. Practice these before the kids head off to those daunting first days of school.
1. Practice kindness. This builds inner and outer empathy, reducing anxiety. Encourage thinking and saying kind words to parents, siblings, pets, even strangers. Tell your children to think of these words as “gifts of love.” A loving thought to ourselves will also ease anxiety. The Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skill to empathize.
2. Choose “Happy Thoughts.” Positive self-talk is extremely important when we are fearful, anxious, and need support. We can’t always get this from parents, who are not in school, or from busy teachers. Practice this with your children until it becomes habitual, especially when they are feeling and acting negatively. “Can I have a happy thought, please?” is a great reminder to refocus and replace negative thoughts. Negative thinking only increases fears and anxieties. This builds self-confidence and is the best stance to take against a bully. The Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skill to motivate oneself.
3. Self-calming and soothing is essential. We lose focus, make bad decisions and are forgetful when we feel angry, frustrated, annoyed or scared. Keep saying “I” messages until you calm down. They clear the head and let you rethink and consider options. “I am calm.” “I am good.” “I am kind.” These are just a few. Pick your own. Have your children pick their favorites and practice! It is another “happy thought.” The Emotional Intelligence skill to self-regulate moods.
4. Persisting in the face of frustration is critical especially when being teased, failing, or not excelling at sports. If children learn to persist at these challenges now, when life altering challenges come along in later life, they will be able to carry on. The key is gratefulness. Stopping and saying to yourself what is good in your life takes you out of the victim role and allows you to move forward. When my children were younger, we would share our “gratefuls” at Friday night dinners. If your children become frustrated at school, they can stop, take a breath and think about something for which they are grateful. The Emotional Intelligence skill to persist in the face of frustration.
As parents, we too are anxious about the new school year. Vacations are over, schedules resume and homework becomes a priority. May these suggestions ease the start of school for the entire family! Slow down, take a breath and remember my “gifts of love” to you!
Article also appears on FamilyAffaires.com in the Back To School issue.
FamilyAffaires.Com Online Magazine/ Back To School Anxieties