First things first, it is normal and expected for children to have some worries with regards to going back to school! School anxiety may include worries like:
Who will be my new teacher?
Will my friends be in my class this year?
How will I do in math/language/etc. this year?
Will this year be harder than last year?
These are social and academic concerns that all children can experience from time to time. In these cases, it is important for parents to recognize these concerns and talk openly with their child about them. At the same time, it is critical that parents listen and empathize, never dismissing or minimizing the child’s feelings. Children need to be heard, like all people.
Parents’ Reactions to School Anxiety:
On the other hand, if parents react with anxiety to their child’s worries, the child will pick up on this and it will only heighten their worries. The calmer a parent can be, the more likely they will be able to really listen to their child and offer support, rather than react based on their own worries. As a parent, I know it can be incredibly tempting to jump in and fix it, to make it all better for our children. When we do this however, we are not really helping our children. We are not allowing them to learn and grow from these experiences. Ultimately, our goal as parents should be to help foster resilience in our children, rather than to promote dependency. Life will always present us with challenges and struggles, among other things. As parents, we play an important role in helping our children build resilience during times of hardship, walking alongside them and supporting them.
One of the questions I am often asked by parents with regards to back-to-school anxiety is, “How do I know if it’s normal worrying or anxiety?” There are signs for which parents can be on the lookout including:
shutting down in school and/or refusing to participate
changes in sleep and/or nightmares
changes in appetite
low frustration tolerance with behaviours like anger outbursts or crying.
How to Help Your Child
When parents see these signs in their child, it is important for them to step in and help their child. The key steps to helping our kid in these situations are:
Acknowledge what the child is experiencing.
Let them (if they are old enough) describe what they are feeling.
Most importantly parents: listen to, and acknowledge what your child says, so that they feel seen, and heard.
Once you understand what your child is feeling and experiencing, the next step can be a conversation with your child about coping strategies. My experience has shown me that children often come up with the best strategies for themselves!
There are times, however, in which parents see that their child is overwhelmed and really struggling and they themselves feel they do not know how to handle the situation. At times like this, professional assistance may be warranted and helpful. I know I’ve been there, and I’d love to be there for you too!
One of the most common questions I’ve been asked by parents is, “What is play therapy, and why is it the preferred way to work with children in therapy?
When adults begin their counselling journeys, they use words to express and communicate their thoughts and feelings. Young children do not generally communicate this same way, often because they don’t have the language to express what is happening in their internal world. They use play instead of words and let their play speak for them. Through play, children communicate their thoughts, worries, feelings just like adults do with words.
A child’s natural inclination is to play. Through play they are able to learn about the world around them and themselves, for example, I like playing with blocks but not drawing. To an adult, play can look like an unproductive activity, but appearances can be deceiving. For children, play is serious business. It is never a waste of time. It is through play that children practice limitless things in a free and safe environment, until they have mastered them, preparing children for “the real world”- as adults call it- all without the child, or the child’s parents, realizing it.
Therapeutically, play gives the therapist a peek into the child’s rich inner world. The diverse ways in which children interact with different toys can reveal their feelings, fears, anxieties, desires, and past experiences. Children will act these out in their play and, at the same time, self-soothe/regulate, find novel solutions to problems, and learn.
What Is Play Therapy Helpful For?
Generally, play therapy is used with children between the ages of 3 and 12 years for presenting issues including, but not limited to:
Problem behaviors at home or school
Facing medical procedures
Angry and/or aggressive behaviors
Family divorce or separation, loss of a loved one in the family, birth of a sibling
Domestic violence, abuse, or neglect
Anxiety, depression, and phobias
Deficits in social skills
The play therapist will typically observe how the child plays during the sessions and may intervene from time to time, depending on the child and the child’s therapeutic needs. Sessions are tailored to each individual child. Therapy goals are assessed in the initial sessions and periodically, thereafter.
What Does a Session Look Like?
Toys and other items are set out in the session room so that children can reach them easily. My preferred method is allowing the child to choose the items he/she wants to use during the session, much like an adult will choose what to discuss in a counselling session. Items used in these sessions can include:
Paints, coloring pencils/markers and crayons
Miniature house (simulates child’s house) with figures of family members and furniture
Board games and playing cards
A soft ball
As a play therapist, I find these sessions with children to be not only therapeutically helpful, but also great fun and incredibly rewarding professionally! I know that play therapy can be a bit mysterious for parents and I hope this article helps you understand it a bit more. If your child is struggling, I would love to work with them, and with you to see how play therapy could help!
If you’d like to know more, or book an appointment, click here to contact the Client Care Team. We love your little ones!
From The Directors: Today on the blog, we’re starting a new series. Our daughter, Ava is going to be writing for our blog from time to time. She’ll be talking about some of the issues she experiences and comes across with her friends, in school, and in life, to offer a perspective from a kid. We professionals can be helpful, but sometimes kids need to hear from kids. We hope this is something that some of your kids can benefit from and see that they’re not the only kid thinking of these things or struggling with things in life. We also hope that some of Ava’s tips will help them too!
My name is Ava. I am a tween, and I have a sister and I have a dog named Buttercup – she is 10 years old. I love to do gymnastics and play with my beautiful dog. I love to bake, ride my bike, read, go skateboarding and last but not least, I LOVE TO PLAY WITH SLIME!!!!!!!!
You may be wondering why I love to play with slime, so here are a few reasons why:
I have anxiety and learning disabilities. Playing with slime helps calm me down when I am nervous. I love the feeling of it in my hands and how the texture changes by what I put in it. It can be really smooth, soft, fluffy, wet or stretchy! Just having it in my hands helps me concentrate better.
It helps me be creative and lets me experiment with ingredients such as, white glue or clear glue (optional), hand cream, glitter, clay (but add in after you activate), foam beads and shaving cream. For activator you can use borax, contact solution and tide, but only use one activator for one slime. Don’t use two activators in one slime.
You can do this on your own or while social distancing with a friend. Or, you can make it online in FaceTime or Zoom – I like to do this with my cousins. It is a very soothing activity but it can get a little bit messy! It doesn’t take long to clean up! If it gets on your clothes just put the clothing in a bucket and put it in hot water to soak for 30 minutes to an hour and it will come right out.
I hope you enjoyed my blog today! Every once in a while, I’m going to write a blog that I hope will help some people. I know that I have a hard time with school and with anxiety sometimes, and I hope some kids out there will hear that it’s ok if things are hard. Life can be hard sometimes! I hope that some of my experiences and ideas might help you!
See you next time!
Ava Neufeld is the newest author on our blog. She is a 12 year old student in the Delta School District and wants to share her perspective on life and challenges in the hopes that it helps others.