SCHOOL CAN BE SCARY
YOU South Africa|13 January 2022
A new school year is full of challenges and can be quite stressful. We asked the experts for a ways you can support your child and help them start this new phase with self- confidence
JOHANÉ SCOTT

SOME kids look forward to the new school year: a new class, a new teacher and a schoolbag full of new stationery. But all this change can also be terrifying.

Whether it’s your child’s first time going to “big school”, or if they’re switching schools, or maybe they just have to get used to a new grade and a new teacher, anything unfamiliar comes with a fear of the unknown.

And while the excitement of something new can outweigh the fear for some children, it can be stressful for others.

It’s the uncertainty, the “what if?” scenarios that cause anxiety, says Lenette Kruger, an educational psychologist from Alberton in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.

So how can you help your child deal with these challenges? What can you do to minimise the impact of change and how do you empower them to deal with anxious feelings when you’re not around?

Here experts weigh in on how you can support your child with empathy and understanding, and help them kick off the new school year with self-confidence.

WHAT DOES ANXIETY LOOK LIKE IN CHILDREN?

Anxiety manifests in various ways depending on a child’s personality and because their emotional skill sets differ, explains educational psychologist Lenette Kruger. “Not all kids react to anxious situations in the same way, but there are certain signs that might indicate they’re managing anxiety in a dysfunctional way,” she adds.

Look out for behaviour that’s different to your child’s usual everyday reactions, says educational psychologist Lindsey Schwartz.

These can happen suddenly or gradually and include:

Moodiness

Clinginess

Developing a nervous habit such as biting their nails

Trouble concentrating

Feeling fearful about all sorts of things

Social withdrawal

Bedwetting

Tummy ache

Headaches

Trouble sleeping

Terrifying fantasies and daydreams

Fear of looking incompetent or losing control

Fear of rejection or being left alone

Thinking something terrible is going to happen.

Physical symptoms can also include increased heart rate, a tight feeling in the chest, pins and needles, restlessness, feeling “jumpy”, sore or stiffmuscles, shivering and light-headedness, Kruger adds.

This behaviour usually lasts longer than just a single emotional reaction or episode.

It’s important to realise that an anxious child isn’t just being “difficult” or “naughty”, Schwartz points out. “If you misunderstand your child’s anxiety, it can make them feel lonely and cause them to struggle to express their emotions.”

Aggressive and obsessive behaviour might also occur but is less common. Aggression is a way for a child to express fear or sadness, while obsessive behaviour is a way of controlling these emotions, Kruger explains.

A child’s age also determines how anxiety manifests, Schwartz says. Younger children up to around eight to nine years old tend to display physical symptoms such as a tummy ache, crying or simply refusing to go to school.

In older children, the first sign of anxiety is usually withdrawal from social interaction.

TEACH YOUR CHILD THESE STRATEGIES

Ideally, you should teach your child the emotional skills they need to deal with feelings of anxiety on their own, even when you’re not around.

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