It’s the end of the academic school year and inevitably this means a spike in the “freak out” behaviors parents start seeing in their kids. Looming deadlines and high stakes testing can push even the most resilient student into a constant state of agitation. Add to this the end-of-year banquets, award ceremonies, and concerts which make it difficult to fit in the study time needed to prepare for education demands.
The most recent data related to the prevalence of mental health issues along the lifespan, indicates that kids today are experiencing higher levels of depression and anxiety than ever before. There are many factors that seem to be feeding into this epidemic. An increase in pressure to perform up to and above adult defined expectations is definitely among the list.
It is no wonder that the spring school season can become linked with feelings of dread for parents and kids. In a seemingly well-meaning effort to help kids avoid what makes them anxious, parents may actually make things worse. I encourage families to find ways to “lean in” and use this time of year as a way to continue developing a child’s tolerance to uncomfortable situations.
Here are a few tips for surviving end-of-school year anxieties:
Limit activities: This goes for kids and adults in the household. The stress of traveling from one activity to another is not helpful when a child’s system is already on high alert at school all day. Our bodies are wired to naturally heal and recover through times of rest. If your child struggles with anxiety this time of year, build down-time into the family schedule including weekends. Remember to let your child know why you are limiting activities as a way to teach and model this important life lesson.
Limit technology: Sometimes kids will use technology as a way to avoid the stress of thinking about projects and testing. Procrastination is a form of avoidance from uncertain or uncomfortable situations. If you want to help your child learn to face these situations, it’s important to limit their access to things that keep them avoiding. You may have already established a routine limiting technology. If that is the case, make sure to keep those guidelines. If not, then setting out some rules that reward time spent on homework is important. Then make sure to praise their decision to focus on getting the work done.
Acknowledge feelings: Let your child know you understand how tough it can be to focus on hard things like studying. Take time to validate their feelings. Let them vent about why doing a certain task is hard. Then send the message that you are confident they can handle this situation even if it is hard and they feel stressed. Offer to help them make a plan of action. Then hold them to following the plan.
Keep your cool: When our child’s anxiety ramps up, the natural tendency we have as caregivers is to go right along with them. Trying to take away the anxiety only reinforces it or prolongs a child’s stress. The goal is to retrain the brain in order to create the message that says “even though I’m uncomfortable I can do this!” That means a parent needs to stay disconnected from the child’s anxiety and connected to a sense of confident calm.