Back to School: Anxiety — Kindergarten and Grade One

Make your child a priority today!

For many students the first day of school doesn’t only mean new teachers and new friends – it can also be a source of anxiety.

Children as young as three may show signs of stress, several months before school even begins. This fear can be pretty intense.

Your young children may fear that something bad will happen to them and there will be no one to take care of them. They may worry about getting lost, not being able to find the bathroom in time and having an accident, not knowing when they will be going home or who will be picking them up.. Make sure to use every orientation opportunity so that your child is familiar with the school, their classroom, and their teacher. Feeling connected to the teacher can help to relieve your child’s anxiety. Tell your child who will pick them up and when. Don’t be late. A child who is waiting to be picked up is anxious. Ask the teacher how she helps children who are crying.

 Take it easy and make getting ready fun!

Fifteen Tips

  1. Label all your child’s belongings, including hats.
  2. Get kids’ sleep schedule ready for school two weeks prior the first day of school. Sleep makes kids smarter and more able to cope with stress. Put your child to bed earlier and wake her up earlier. Make this change in small increments. Children under the age of 12 need 10 to 12 hours of sleep.
  3. Choose clothes that are easy for your child to put on and take off.
  4. Have your child draw a picture to give to the teacher.
  5. Practice a good-bye ritual such as rubbing noses cheerfully, then kissing, and, with a smile, saying, “I love you. Enjoy your day and I’ll see you at 3:30.” When you are leaving your childn never sneak out without saying good-bye.
  6. Do as much preparation as possible the night before. Lay out clothes, pack easy, nutritious  lunches, and have backpacks at the door.
  7. Reassure your child that you are packing an extra pair of pants and socks in a plastic bag in his backpack, in case of an accident.
  8. Get a good night’s sleep.
  9. Prepare and plan a calm morning schedule.  A predictable routine is calming for children. Rushing increases stress.
  10. In the morning of the first day, get yourself ready first.
  11. Be calm. You may add to your child’s stress if you are stressed.
  12. Give your child an appropriate comfort object. For example a picture of the family, or with bright red lipstick kiss the back of your child’s hand with an all-day kiss.
  13. Provide a nutritious breakfast. Even young children, as young as 4 or 5, can pour a bowl of cereal.
  14. Arrive early to help your child engage with other kids.
  15. Plan a fun activity, such as a bike ride with you, for the end of the school day. This can give your child something to look forward to.

What if your child cries when you about to leave?

If your child is teary-eyed it is likely that he is afraid, feels unsafe, and doesn’t know how to self-sooth.

The two extreme reactions are to “rescue” too soon or to leave the child crying.

Don’t say, “Don’t be afraid.” Young children can’t separate themselves from their feelings. Children may feel shame if they are not allowed to express their feelings.

Instead, show empathy.  Hold your child and say, “I know you feel sad. You are okay. You are safe.” Recognize your child’s effort to be brave.

A calm teacher can play an important role here, by doing something to engage your child and by having a welcoming ritual. A child who feels connected to the teacher is usually less anxious.


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Getting Kids’ Sleep Schedule Ready for School

Back to School

Back to School

Summer has its own pace, but school in September demands more routine. It will be easier for both parents and kids to ease into their new school year bedtimes and wake-up times if parents start, two weeks before school begins, to implement a plan.

  1. Start making both wake- up time and bedtimes earlier. Gradually move these times earlier, in small increments, (about 15 minutes every other day, time permitting) as the start of school approaches.
  2.  Plan to do activities earlier in the morning. I encourage outdoor activities as much as possible. It doesn’t help kids to be cooped up inside, and couch time watching screens doesn’t promote good sleep either.
  3. A parent’s mood is contagious. Be calm and cheerful. Avoid interruptions such as answering your phone. This is a valuable time to connect with your children.

Preparation for sleep:

  • The bedroom needs to be dark, quiet and comfortable.
  • Eliminate screen time before bedtime. TV and computers are too stimulating right before bed. Even light from a sleeping computer can make sleeping difficult.
  • Avoid exercising or doing anything too thought-provoking.
  • Limit any caffeine intake in the afternoons and have a healthy diet because quality meals set the stage for successful sleep.
  • Do something quiet, like reading. This sends a signal to the brain that it is time to wind down.

Be prepared to listen to your child’s concerns. When children have an opportunity to voice their concerns they are able to sleep better.

Don’t talk about going back to school too much, especially if your child tends to be anxious.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 60% of U.S children ages 5 to 17 feel tired at some point during the day and 1in 4 feel tired most of the time.
Sleep deprivation diminishes mental performance. Lack of sleep causes temporary loss of I.Q. points (National Institute of Health).

_____________________________________

The National Sleep Foundation suggests the following guidelines for children:

6- to 9-year-olds need about 10 hours of sleep a night.
10- to 12-year-olds need a little over nine hours each night.

Teenagers should aim for eight to nine hours per night.


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How to Make Shopping With Young Children Easier

Little Girl Shopping

Children need help to get their needs met.

Remember those spur-of-the-moment, leisurely shopping trips before you had kids? That was then. Now your opportunities to shop are fewer, time allowances are shorter, and rarely is shopping  an “adult only” event.

On a recent shopping trip, I was standing in line, waiting for the next available cashier, and behind me were a mother and her daughter who looked to be about 3 years old. I had met them earlier in the store, when the little girl was trying on a new pair of shoes. Greeting the mom once again, I noticed the little girl taking a bottle of water from a nearby upright cooler. (The cooler had been so strategically placed by the merchant! It was noon. Feeling thirsty and hungry, I too considered buying a cool drink while waiting.) When she asked her mother if she could have it, her mother said, “No, your water is in the car.” When her daughter said, “I want this one,” I heard her mom tell her, “There are things in this water that are bad for you.” Then the child returned the bottle to the cooler and fetched another bottle of water with a different colored label. I thought, “How smart is she! She probably thinks that this one won’t have bad things in it.” When she asked her mother if she could have that one, her mother, sounding irritated, said “You can’t have that water either. I am not buying any water for you, so don’t think that I am! Put it back!” Her daughter looked sad and confused.

I wondered why the mother was mad. This little girl wasn’t doing anything wrong. She just wanted some water and needed her mother’s help. Small children need help from adults to get their needs met. (I wonder if the mother would have responded differently if she had been with an adult friend who was thirsty, and wanted a bottle of water.) Considering that they had been shopping for some time and it was noon, it’s possible that both the mom and her daughter were thirsty, perhaps hungry, and tired from shopping.

Of course, it was the mother’s right to set limits, but this situation was more complicated than simply setting a limit.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

Reflection, preparation, and planning make shopping with children more enjoyable. As well, the practices of prioritizing and protecting your child’s schedule for meals, sleep, and playtime make parenting easier, and children happier and more cooperative. For example, this situation may have been prevented if the mother had planned to stop shopping before the child’s lunchtime. Children who are hydrated, fed and rested make happier shopping companions.

Of course, there are some circumstances when parents decide that more flexibility is needed so the child’s routine is set aside. But when parents let go of the child’s routine, the outcomes are more unpredictable. Therefore, more time is needed for preparation and planning for possible outcomes. Parents need to prepare for extending the time for shopping by packing drinks and snacks that will be available when needed. Grown ups are able to wait, children find waiting more difficult. It is age-appropriate for children to feel stressed and irritable when they are thirsty and hungry.

When this kind of preparation and planning doesn’t occur, a shopping trip can, as my girlfriend put it, “turn ugly”. But there are still things that parents can do that may help their children to cope with unmet needs like hunger, thirst, and fatigue — for a short period of time.

  1. Be self-aware. Are you hungry? Tired? Do you feel like blaming your child? Stop immediately and take a deep breath and another one, until you feel calm. The beauty of being the grown up is that you don’t have to be the victim of your feelings. Getting mad at, and blaming, your child for your upset makes everything worse.
  2. Remember that: all children have good intentions and — just because they are children — they all have difficulty waiting, and delaying gratification.
  3. Keep your options open. Reflect and decide if a limit is needed. This is an important decision, but there is no urgency. If you choose to set a limit, then, before voicing the limit, think about how you will support and help your child to cope with the limit. For example, with a positive demeanor you can recognize the child’s wish: “I know you are thirsty and you wish you had some water right now. When we get to our car you will have a refreshing drink of water. You will feel better. Right now, will you please help me and carry your shoes?”
  4. Or, you may decide — just as you already decided to make an exception regarding the child’s schedule — to make another exception and share a bottle of water, relieving stress for you both.
  5. In all situations, let the most important parenting principle be your guide: connection. Look into your child’s eyes, show empathy and stay connected to your child.


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How You Can Support Your Children After the Tragedy at the Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut

All children are
our children.

School shootings can deeply affect us and our children. For children who hear about the event, reassure them that it is natural to worry and feel scared about their safety and the safety of their school.

Limit exposure to news coverage

First, please keep children away from news media, at least for a couple of days, especially news coverage on television and other screens. Children do identify with the fallen children and the children who survived the shooting. This is scary for them and they can imagine themselves in that situation.

Talk & Listen to your children

Our children are our future.

It can help children to first hear you tell them what happened. Be open. They need to know that you are open to talking about it.

Before talking with your children, make sure that you are in a good emotional space–calm, not angry or scared. Children can handle sadness, and you can tell them that this violence is scary for you too. Your children tend to model you.

Start the conversation. Don’t lie. Don’t over-share. How much you share depends on the age of the child. You know your child better than anyone so trust your own assessment of how much to share.

We used to think that there is no need to burden children under 5 years with this information, but now — if they are in school, on school buses and in school yards — even these young children may find out about the event and need support.

Although this took place in an elementary school, the shooter was a 20 year old young person. Adolescents and young adults will, also, be affected by this event. Open up the conversation with them, if they don’t: “Have you heard what happened?… What do you think?…”

Psychologists who work in the area of trauma and recovery advise parents to use the troubling news of school shootings as an opportunity to talk and listen to their children. It is important, say these psychologists, to be honest. Parents should acknowledge to children that bad things do happen, but also reassure them with the information that many people are working to keep them safe, including their parents, teachers and local police.

Young children may communicate their fears through play or drawings. Elementary school children will use a combination of play and talking to express themselves. Adolescents are more likely to have the skills to communicate their feelings and fears verbally. Adults should be attentive to a child’s concerns, but also try to help the children put their fears into proportion to the real risk. Again, it is important to reassure children that the adults in their lives are doing everything they can to make their environment — school, home and neighborhood — safe for them.

Parents, teachers and school administrators also need to communicate with one another not only about how to keep kids safe, but about which children might need more reassurance and the best way to give it to them.

From the American Psychological Association:

Keep it simple and age-appropriate. After giving the facts of the event, follow your child’s lead. Some children will be clingy due to the stress that they are feeling. That’s okay. For some children the facts are enough, and they want to move on. Some children will come back later to talk and ask questions. Some won’t.

Be your child’s emotional coach

When children can talk about their feelings it lowers the intensity, makes feelings more manageable, and it connects you with your children heart to heart.

  • Allow all feelings. What is your child feeling? What are you feeling?
  • Don’t try to fix or change their feelings. Just help them tell their story.
  • Help your children to label their feelings as sad, mad, glad, frustrated, scared…
  • Show empathy.

Reassure them

Tell them: “This rarely happens.” “Right now we are safe.” “Right now you are safe.” “We and your school will do everything we can to keep you safe.”

Help them to connect this tragic event to something positive

Tell them some positive things about this tragedy–how people showed support–the policemen, the firemen, and the helpers. People brought food and flowers and people all over the world sent supportive wishes.

Role-model and teach coping skills.

Your children need you. No one–neither teachers, nor friends–can take your place. This is a reminder of how important it is to spend time engaged with your children, and to connect with them heart to heart.

  • Spend time doing something that they want to do. Spending as few as 15 minutes doing this can make a difference for your child. Boys, especially, often talk more when you are doing something with them.
  • Take a walk, watch a funny movie–anything that helps you to cope.
  • Perhaps you and your children could do something to show support–send a card, a drawing…

Know the warning signs*

Most children are quite resilient and will return to their normal activities and personality relatively quickly, but parents should be alert to any signs of anxiety that might suggest that a child or teenager might need more assistance. Such indicators could be a change in the child’s school performance, changes in relationships with peers and teachers, excessive worry, school refusal, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches or stomach aches, or loss of interest in activities that the child used to enjoy. Also remember that every child will respond to trauma differently. Some will have no ill effects; others may suffer an immediate and acute effect. Still others may not show signs of stress until sometime after the event.

From the American Psychological Association:

*If you child shows any of these warning signs don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

 

From my heart to yours.


 


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First Things First

If we want our children to experience their full potential as unique people, I believe that they need to feel connected to us, their parents, so that they can develop a deep connection to themselves.A loving mother holding and smiling at her child

When I was a young mother I sometimes wanted to disconnect from them, especially when my child would “push my buttons”. I began to realize that if I was to be the mother that I wanted to be, I had to deal with “my buttons”. They were mine, after all.

I began therapy and realized my issues were rooted in my childhood. My mother was the dominant figure in my childhood and domineering she was. She demanded obedience at any cost. Her message was that she was in control of me and that I, her child, must meet her needs, including her need  to never be embarrassed in public. I learned that my needs were not important and that I was too demanding. When she was very reactive, she showed no self-control. I felt so afraid of her when she was angry. When things were not going her way she blamed me and was determined to make me suffer.

By the time I was  five years old  I had learned to be a “good” girl — to repress my needs in order to meet the needs of others, to always please others, to be very careful not to make mistakes, never to ask for help, never to question authority, and never, never to say “no”.

At first, I felt angry, but now I don’t blame my parents in any way. Now I know, in my heart, that they did the best they could. And I will always be grateful to my children. Because of them I began my journey of recovery from my childhood.

I also began to study. When my children were in bed, and later in school, I immersed myself in  books like Alice Miller’s “For Your Own Good, the Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence”, and Dr. Susan Forward’s ”Toxic Parents, Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life”.

I began to understand what I needed to change. It became clear why, as a young mother, I was feeling so much pain and confusion and was doing what I didn’t want to do, like seeking the approval of people I didn’t even know — onlookers in parking lots or neighbours, or whoever might show disapproval. If my child had a temper tantrum in public, I felt shame. It was as if people were shouting at me, “Can’t you control your kid?” I was determined not to repeat my mother’s behaviour, but it was becoming like a painful tug of war inside me.

I wanted my children to grow up in a world where they could feel unconditional love, where they would always feel safe, no matter what. I wanted my beautiful, innocent children to flourish. I wanted them to know that they were OK at every age — 1 yr., 2 yr., 4 yr., 14 yr.  I didn’t want to be reactive when “my buttons” were pushed. I wanted them to learn — from my role-modelling — the skills of self-control, self-composure, and empathy. I wanted them to experience the value of treating all with dignity and respect, no matter what. I wanted my children to feel free to be themselves, not who I wanted them to be. I wanted a heart to heart connection with them.

But first I had to clear out my baggage because my issues — not taking care of my own needs, my drive to please, and the pressure to control my children — were stopping me from being the mother that I wanted to be.


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