The new school year brings back routines for the next ten months. Even if the pattern is familiar, a change in routine is happening with students experiencing new classrooms, new schedules, new teacher(s), and new expectations. When the momentum of change is in effect, anxiety will be high.
While, as adults, we’ve learned to adapt to change, children and adolescents may struggle. Many will experience a “meltdown” during the first few weeks of school and periodically throughout the school year.
Anxiety will look and feel different for each student, and parents need to know how it presents with their child. Internal and external stimuli (triggers) come from everywhere, whether spread throughout the day or experienced all at once. When experiencing anxiety-producing situations, coping skills are needed to bring peace and strength. Not everyone will know what their child needs to stabilize at the moment. Therefore, parents can proactively create a safe landing for their children if these are learned together and practiced at home.
Overstimulation, Anxiety, and Creating Frustration Tolerance
Connecting with your child and learning how anxiety affects them is essential to bring calmness. Triggers for overstimulation occur through our five senses. What we see, smell, touch, hear, and taste can become overwhelming in moments of high expectation.
Overstimulation trigger examples include a negative response to loud noises, bright lights, large classroom sizes, a mixture of smells, a loud or stern tone of voice from someone in authority, arguing, disorganization, and the feeling of being rushed.
Triggers for anxiety, social anxiety, or feeling overwhelmed can occur without knowing what it’s about.
Anxiety and social anxiety trigger examples include test taking, lunchtime (where to sit or who to sit with), rushing to get to class, being called on by a teacher, unrealistic expectations on grades and extracurricular activities, following rules, presentations, and group projects, fitting in, and making new friends.
Unforeseen last-minute changes increase the likelihood of anxiety-producing situations, especially for students with special needs.
Last-minute trigger examples include routine changes, class schedule changes, working with technology, encountering substitute teachers, and transportation changes.
Roadmap for Peace
Parents will gain an understanding and awareness that help them and their child manage daily stressors by asking the following questions:
What situations are you experiencing that make you feel anxious? What are your thoughts, and how do you respond in these situations? How is it affecting you in the classroom, with your peers and teachers? When you are becoming anxious, how and where do you feel it?
Children will feel emotions differently than adults, so helping them identify what they do when they’re anxious is essential. Examples include pacing, sweating, irritability, nausea, avoidance, nail-biting, tapping feet, or chewing. These are their warning symptoms that something is up! The next step is learning how to create frustration tolerance.
Frustration tolerance means we can deal with frustration in any given situation. A person with high frustration tolerance can manage change successfully, while others with low frustration tolerance grow overwhelmed and experience meltdowns from minor problems.
Now, it is time to become proactive and have a response plan. Have your child think of a scenario that could happen in the future. Ask them how they would like to feel in this situation. Using their imagination, ask them to walk through the problem until the end, using coping skills to decrease anxiety.
Here are some grounding techniques to decrease response to anxiety and overstimulation: Positive self-talk by creating a mantra — “I’m okay. I can do this. I’m safe” — with deep breathing. Deep breathing – breath in for 3 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, slowly release the breath for 5 seconds. Quietly count to 10 or by 5s to 100. Quietly tap feet right then left back and forth. (Tapping fingers works, too). Focus on an object, recognizing its size, shape, color, and function. Anxiety rings and bracelets can aid in tactile soothing techniques.
Change is inevitable, but how we respond to it determines how we develop and grow.
Don’t enable but help your child learn to manage daily hiccups that are out of their control by birthing positive long-term effects in everyday decision-making and problem-solving.