Over the past two weeks worlds have shifted as many of us embarked on the adventure of a new school year. This is a tricky transition for all involved; parents, teachers and of course the kids.
It has been challenging for everyone. If you are feeling emotional and a bit off-center – you are not alone.
Everything is suddenly different – new people, new routines, new experiences, new expectations. Plus, we are taming the wild and open energy of the summer. This is overwhelming for most of us and anxiety-producing for many.
You can be sure all of the little people have been experiencing big feelings and emotions lately and kids aren’t equipped with the skills to deal with these big feelings (most adults aren’t either).
When your child is having a tantrum, scared, angry or just being a complicated, annoying person – it is because they don’t know what to do. THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. But … they feel really really bad. What they need is a compassionate adult and some tools to move through the emotions that they are experiencing.
Many children experience high-levels of anxiety the first month of school and don’t have the resources necessary to manage it effectively. Along with anxiety comes worry, fear, frustration, stress and confusion. As parents it can feel bewildering when our children look to us to help them solve these problems. Emotional challenges are the most difficult and most important ones to solve.
When we ourselves are busy managing our own emotions, working, cooking, cleaning, dealing with conflict and life stress we often push these issues with our kids aside – mostly because we don’t know what to do. But, if we can be present with our children and support them through these big moments, they become independent and emotionally resilient (which makes parenting them that much easier).
So what do we do?
1) Talk About it.
This is simple and takes nothing more than our time and attention. Have you ever said to your child, “There isn’t anything to be afraid of” or “Don’t make such a big deal about it”? I have as well but this is not what they need to hear when they are standing in the middle of their fear. For them there is something to be afraid of – there is something very big and real to them and it is creating a whole pile of complex emotions. The best thing that we can do for our children is help them name their fears and anxieties. They need to look at these feelings with someone they love and trust. Sit down with your child at a time when you can give them your full attention and ask them;
What are you thinking about when you feel anxious and scared? What thoughts are in your head?
Their answers will surprise you. And just talking about it will reduce the level of anxiety.
2) Problem Solve.
The only reason a child ever ‘mis’-behaves is because they have a problem they do not know how to solve. They only reason they ever act out is because they feel trapped within a problem and can’t find their way through it. This little piece of understanding totally changed my relationship with my children. It gave me a new perspective that allowed me to be a better parent and create a more peaceful home.
The trick is finding out where they are stuck and then taking the time to work it out with them. This takes patience, curiosity and creativity as a parent, but it is well worth the investment of time and energy because we teach our children to become better problem-solvers and solutionists. And every single child wants to be able to solve their own problems.
When my oldest started school at the age of 4 he was overcome with worry and anxiety. Dropping him off at school was an extreme and traumatic experience every single day. After many conversations with him I discovered that a large part of his worry was about going to the washroom while at school. He wasn’t clear about the protocol in his classroom and didn’t understand what his teacher expected from him, so he held onto his pee all morning or snuck off to the washroom without asking (which created huge amounts of guilt and shame) It seems like such a small thing but to a little person these issues are monumental.
Many of our children’s fears and anxieties are easy to address and have surprisingly simple solutions when we actually know what they are.
3) Magical Thinking.
For some of the bigger, more complex fears we use magical thinking. A child’s biggest asset is their imagination (and I would say the same for us adults). The thing is – we are not taught to use our imagination effectively and we are missing out on our greatest tool.
A child can imagine the craziest and most extreme situations in great detail and we would likely be surprised and amazed at the outrageous scenarios they create inside their minds. Children tend to run with their imagination and allow it to move about wildly.
We often push our children to be too ‘realistic’ instead of allowing fantasy to help them work through the many challenges of childhood. If they can learn to direct their imagination in a more positive way and understand how to take control of their thinking, kids are able to regulate their own emotions.
When Henry (my 3 year old) went off to Kindergarten last week he told me he was going to miss me too much to go to school. We found a magic solution to this problem using our imagination: Henry and I created an invisible golden cord that attaches to his belly button and to my belly button. No matter how far away we are from each other it is never broken. I showed him how to put his hands on his belly button and take 3 nice slow breaths when he wanted to connect with me throughout his day. Now when he misses me while he is at school there is a practical exercise that he can do to help him feel closer to me. It focuses his imagination in a positive direction instead of it gaining momentum in a negative way.
Get your kids to help you create some magical tools – I have never met a child who didn’t love to dive into imaginative play, they often just need a little push. Magic wands, invisible cords, hidden superpowers … have fun with it.
Children are naturally mindful beings. When I watch my kids play they are always in the present moment, fully engaged in whatever they are doing. But during times of high-anxiety even our little people can get caught up in the past and over think the future.
Creating space to teach our children some simple mindfulness exercises gives them yet another tool that they can use to help regulate their own emotions. Here are two of my favourites:
- Mindfulness Breathing (sit with your child and encourage them to pay attention to their breath – how it comes in and fills up their belly and how it leaves their body. How does it feel on the inhale and how does it feel on the exhale. This helps them to direct their focus onto one thing and bringing the breath into the belly will relax them)
- 123 Breath ( having your child inhale to the count of 3 and exhale to the count of 3 brings their focus into their bodies and out of their thinking mind)
Mindfulness just means paying attention, focussing and bringing the mind into the present moment. There are endless ways in which children can practice mindfulness: eating, creating art, listening to music … We can use anything in our daily life as a way to become more focussed and present.
5) Move. Touch. Get Outside.
Last but not least …
Get your kids to move their bodies; dance, run, jump, climb. We all hold our stress and emotions in our physical body and the only way to release it is to move. We can teach our children healthy habits around stress release by including some form of movement and exercise into their daily routine. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just move.
I can not put enough emphasis around the importance of physical touch and intimacy, especially in times of big change and transition. Give lots of hugs to your children right now, they need it. Take it a step further and give them a massage before bed, even if its just for 10 minutes. Some children pull away and isolate themselves when they are under stress and a daily massage is a great way to reconnect with them and help them to feel safe and supported.
As parents and teachers it is also important that we take care of ourselves during times of transition. It is easy to get caught up in the movement of day to day life and forget to eat well, sleep when we are tired and be kind towards ourselves. Life isn’t fun when we are cranky and resentful. Show yourself the same compassion you give to your children.
Keep your household routines tight as well – that sense of structure helps everyone feel safe and secure when things are new and unfamiliar.
Sending out big love and buckets of peace as we attempt to move into this new school year with grace.
In Solidarity. J