Teenage anxiety and the fear of returning to school

July 06th 2020

Starting back after the summer hols can be challenging, and this year, it will be a quantum leap for many children. Here are some steps to put in place to help reduce any anxieties.

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It may feel like a lifetime away but ….

….hopefully all children will have the chance to return to school in September and for them that is a lifetime away, but before what feels like something on the distant horizon becomes the wave that is about to crash over you, here are some thoughts for you to help ride that wave.

Perception of time

A key difference for many of them is that what would normally be a 6 week break has become a 6 month break.

Children perceive time differently.  There are chemical reasons that contribute to this but also 6 months as a percentage of a lifetime for younger children is relatively high compared to us as adults.

6 months is enough time for things to become the new ‘norm.’  Therefore going back to school rather than being a return to what is the normal ‘norm’ is going to be a much more significant change for them.

To help with this, talk about the return to school in relation to the amount of time they have been away from school.  For example, rather than “You have 6 weeks of school holiday now,”  rephrase this to, “It has been 13 weeks since you were at school and 6 weeks until you go back.”  This helps to keep the relativity of what is still ahead of them in proportion.

Maintain routine

Routine often goes out the window over the school holidays.  If you have managed to keep some structure and routine to your days over lock down, you can afford to relax this a little, however, I would advise against letting it go altogether.

It is a bit like muscle memory – if you ran a marathon 6 years ago, the body has that muscle memory but it is buried quite deeply.  If you ran one 6 months ago that memory is far more accessible!

Same with the teens.  The more recent the memory of routine and structure is, the easier it will be accessible again.

Manage boundaries

Building on from routine, consider your approach to the boundaries you set.  Again, in the holidays, these may be relaxed a bit more – later nights, later mornings etc.

If you have managed to retain normal routines and boundaries, then some relaxation is appropriate.  However if, like many teens, they have failed to emerge from their bedrooms before noon most days, a sudden return to a 7am alarm clock will put a huge stress on them.

Whilst going ‘cold turkey’ works for some, it is very painful!  I encourage working with your teen to start putting those boundaries in place well in advance of school return date.

A bit like the shortening of the days we now have, rousing them 5 minutes earlier each day to increasingly get them back to a level where the jump to a 7am start becomes easily achievable.  And this may reflect something similar at the end of the day too!

Kids need a purpose too

Having a purpose is an important part of motivating someone to get up.  When there is no school work to achieve, children will need a purpose if they are not going to continue developing their nocturnal traits.

Giving them some activities that need to be done can support this. Whether it is walking the dog, cooking the evening meal, helping with some gardening/DIY etc their mental health will be more readily supported when they go to bed feeling they have done something that day.

I tend to ‘sell’ this to my teens by talking about how we as adults need a break too – we are still working so it is not fair for us to maintain a Mach 5 pace whilst they clock up the hours on Netflix.  We fail to achieve a 50:50 balance but I am also not willing to accept 100:0 either!

Have physical contact

Whilst the restrictions are reducing, many teens are already finding physical contact harder.  I have noticed how boys that used to rough and tumble now feel quite awkward around each other.  Where they used to have sports as a way of having physical contact ‘legitimately,’ this has also created a gap in what is familiar.

To help bridge this gap, have as much physical contact with your teen as they will allow you.  Regular hugs (even if they are not reciprocated), or if that is not feasible, a hand on the shoulder, or just getting into their personal zone, will all mean that when they are back in the classroom, this will not feel as alien to them.

Key is to start these steps now

Consistency is key.  Small steps, taken regularly leads to significant change.  By integrating some of these actions now, even before the official holidays start, will contribute to helping manage natural teenage anxieties.

If you would like to talk about any specific challenges you are facing, please feel free to contact me and we can have a chat.  There are also some free handouts for parents of teenagers that you can download here.

And for support with general teenage anxieties, please come and join the closed facebook group, teenstress101 where there is an incredible support network of parents of teens where we chat about all things teenager!

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