Sometimes we parents just need to shut up.
Back To School Anxiety: What You Can Do
Preparation is important. So, as we anticipate another school year, it makes sense to prepare, to get acquainted with the new schedule, hammer out the logistics, and replenish the supplies.
But, alas, when it comes to preparation and parenting, it’s a slippery slope–and all too easy to go overboard. It’s easy to lecture, go over the schedule, offer advice, and ask lots of questions.
Is there something called Momsplaining? I’m sure I’m guilty of that.
I suggest you counter the busy-ness of August and September with a bit of stillness. Stop talking long enough to open up some space for kids (and especially teens) to think and talk and problem solve and complain a bit… minus the parental commentary.
Too much stepping in by adults hampers the opportunity for kids and teens to practice some vital skills: handling uncertainty, developing some age-appropriate autonomy, and learning how to walk through the process of problem solving when things don’t go exactly as planned.
These are the very skills that anxious kids and parents lack, and the skills that all kids can (and should) develop with practice. When it comes to anxiety and depression, these are the skills of both treatment and prevention.
Don’t Fall Into Momsplanning Either
Attempts to make sure your child knows everything about the new school year is not only impossible, it gives your child the message that certainty is a requirement for moving forward.
Anxiety requires that all information is gathered and all wrinkles ironed out ahead of time.
Of course, life doesn’t work this way—and the beginning of a new school year certainly doesn’t. School bus routes are still being adjusted, teachers are learning about their new students, and schedules are in flux.
Framing up the start of a school year as a time that requires flexibility and combines knowns and unknowns is both realistic and helpful modeling. I use the What I Know/ What I Don’t Know Game with kids. I describe it in this video.
How Momsplaining and Momplanning
Can Fuel Worry
A few years ago, I met with a family that was struggling with anxiety. Ten-year-old Polly was having trouble sleeping in her own room and going to her dance classes. She was complaining of tummy aches at school and visiting the nurse with increasing frequency. Much of her worry at school focused on the car pool arrangements. Who was going to pick her up? What if someone forgot? What if she couldn’t find the car?
To get a sense of Polly’s problem solving skills, I asked her, “What would you do if somehow there was a carpool problem? What if one of the parents did forget or was late?” Before Polly had a chance to answer, her mom jumped in.
She first turned to Polly: “That will not happen, do you understand? We would never let that happen. You will be safe. We will not forget you.”
She then turned to me: “We go over the schedule every Sunday night and every morning. She knows I check in with the other parents. We won’t have to deal with that. Polly asks me about carpool a lot, and I tell her that she will always be safe.”
This loving mother was getting in the way of any opportunity for Polly to develop confidence in the face of life’s glitches… while conveying a sense of urgency and danger with her constant reassurance.
Resist the desire to intervene and fix it
As the school year begins, there will likely be bumps as children get used to a new teacher, new classmates, new schedules and even a new school. A return to old struggles may re-emerge as well: social and academic challenges, tucked away for the summer, are cued and ready to go.
Resist the impulse to jump in and fix things right away when your children come home with complaints. Instead, chat about how they might problem solve…and let them know that it takes time to adjust and figure out the new terrain.
Connect them back to a previous experience when something felt “weird” at first. Normalize the expected discomfort that comes with “newness.” Some problems may ultimately require parental intervention, but showing kids how to slow down and problem solve, rather than you as the parent charging in immediately and taking over, is extremely valuable.
Kids find their own paths when we show them how to adapt and adjust. Love them, hug them, have dinner with them, and model for them what you want them to learn, without stepping in too quickly and DOING it your way instead.
If you are looking for solid information on the do’s and don’ts of handling worry, my 12 hour webinar, Managing Anxiety at School and Home, will be available until September 30th, 2017.