Parents across Ireland are getting ready for the incoming school term. With so many things unknown as we start to return to a new school year, children are turning to their parents to guide them. What can create the most stress is not knowing exactly what will happen. Our brains are wired to seek out the most exact information which unfortunately can create a need for control. Of course, we cannot control everything. So how do we manage this stress when we cannot predict the future?
1. Our best response to children right now is to be open about not knowing, and ask age-appropriate questions to create a sense of curiosity rather than worry. Asking more about their experience will give you an insight into how they worry, an what you can do to soothe them.
2. Re-establishing a routine will create a sense of stability. This includes bed times, activities, and meal times. This can be particularly helpful in advance of school starting.
3. Giving a choice is important for children right now. There are some things that we won’t have a choice over e.g. lockdown, getting homework, learning plans. Providing options create a sense of flexibility, even if it’s choosing when they want to start an activity or which chores they might do first.
4. For most, school ended prematurely. This has created a sense of loss for children, especially if they are moving into a more advanced stage like secondary school. If not done already, it would be good to mark the ending of school, or discussing how things have changed since earlier this year. For some this is writing a card to the teacher; doing a video call with classmates; or if safe to do so, a get together.
5. Don’t forget that you are an essential part of how your child manages stress. Showing some anxiety is okay, but showing how you manage it is paramount for their emotional development.
Ways to reduce anxiety asap:
· Focus on mindful breathing, starting with slow and gentle breaths. Mindfulness is especially useful for stress and anxiety, no matter how old.
· See if there can be a playful activity that you can do right now. Play allows children to focus on the present moment and not dwell on the past or future.
· Art can be a really helpful way of soothing a child’s anxiety. It can be used as something mindful, distracting, or as a way of labelling what might be stressful.
· Fresh air and exercise are key to a healthy mind. An active body helps the child develop their motor systems and cognition.
Online Psychologists are providing support for parents across Ireland, during flexible/evening/nap-time hours throughout the week. Contact us if you need to book an appointment for advice, skills and tools.
Dr. Sean O’Connell,