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Surviving lockdown - helping your child talk about anxiety and returning to school

Anxiety

School

Lockdown

By Michael Hawton

30th September, 2021

Lockdowns in Melbourne, Sydney and some regional areas are coming to an end - representing a return to school for many thousands of children. Returning to school following a larger than normal break can be an additional stress for children. You can help your child make that adjustment by being a good listening ear and by helping them to get things in proportion.

If your child is reluctant to go back to school, it may be that they are making that ‘new thing’ scarier than it needs to be. It’s not uncommon for children to get in the habit of using exaggerated feeling words in assessing what’s going on. These days children are bombarded with terms such as anxiety, trauma, stress and anxiety - especially in the current climate. These words, now, more than ever, have crept into everyday language and for some people they are replacing other normal emotions, like being a bit nervous or being unsure.

Children can get in the habit of saying how “terrible” or “traumatic” or “depressing” something is. These big words may not be an accurate reflection of what is occurring. Some children become dogmatic with how they interpret what’s happening for them, because they can only find a few words to describe what’s happening. If you have only a few words to choose from, you will tend to go with the words you’re used to. 

The temptation for a parent who has a reluctant child is to respond by reassuring them. It’s tempting to smooth over a child’s fear by telling them it’ll be alright. Sometimes that strategy will work but sometimes it won’t. A way through this mire of not over reassuring is to emotion coach a child and to express confidence in their ability to ‘have a go’.

Part of the role adults can play in a child’s life is to enrich their vocabulary of feelings. This means helping them to be more subtle in identifying how they are feeling.

A first step in helping a child unlock their tendency catastrophise is to help them to find other words. Those other words may be a more accurate representation for what is going on for the child.

When we emotion coach children, we can help them to identify a broader selection of feeling
words. By fielding these extra feeling words in front of children, we can improve their ability to identify how they are feeling. Helping children to find those other words can really help them express discomfort. It also teaches them that they shouldn’t always give a 9/10 reaction to a 4/10 event. Most events are not a catastrophe and they can be interpreted using words that are more accurate and less inflammatory. Going back to school need not be a bad thing.
It could easily be interpreted as an exciting adventure; it all depends on how
you frame it. 

   

To help with this process, Innovative Resources ‘Bear Cards’ can be useful. You
can purchase them here. I also know people who prefer to use the feelings wheel (sometimes called the emotions wheel). Whatever resource you use; it is all about your child learning to reflect on their feelings and learning to label them. This will be important for your child to express how they are feeling about returning to school and importantly to help you to help your child keep things in proportion and not let words like anxiety and trauma creep
into their everyday language.

It is important for significant adults in a child’s life to be aware that the majority of anxious thinking is learned, two-thirds of it actually. What can happen is poorly constructed explanations can be implanted in a child’s mind, such that a child’s immediate emotional reactions reinforces higher anxiety.

In other words, children bring to the table a partial self that relies on a completed self (that of adults) to help them develop coping narratives. If children do not get help early to overcome their worries, anxieties and fears they’ll become more anxious.

Parentshop is hosting a parent-led child development interactive webinar for parents to learn the skills to identify and reduce anxiety and build resilience in children aged 2-12. This webinar hosted by Parentshop founder and No Scaredy Cats course creator Michael Hawton. It will be held over three, two hour-long sessions over three consecutive Thursdays, 4th, 11th & 18th November from 6.30pm- 8.45pm AEDT for only $59 – CLICK HERE to register. 


Have a teen or tween? Parentshop is hosting a parent-led child development interactive webinar for parents of teenagers to learn the skills to identify and reduce anxiety and build resilience in their teen. This webinar hosted by Parentshop founder and Resilience in Our Teens course creator Michael Hawton. It will be held over three, two hour-long sessions over three consecutive Thursdays, 25th  November, 2nd & 9th
December from 6.30pm- 8.45pm AEDT for only $99 – CLICK HERE to register.

About the author

Michael Hawton is the founder of Parentshop, providing education and resources for parents and industry professionals working with children. He has authored two books on child behaviour management: Talk Less Listen More and Engaging Adolescents.

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