As children return to school after a six month break, some may be feeling quite anxious. While some young people will welcome the return of the school routine, others will be finding the social and academic pressures very difficult. In her latest blog, counsellor Laura Sollis suggests the best way to help a child with school anxiety could simply be to listen.
In truth, very little has changed over the years and I've watched similar scenarios play out with my children and their peers.
For many young people, whilst the thought of having months off of school may have felt appealing from the start, the thirst for knowledge and lack of social interaction may have taken its toll, leaving them feeling frustrated and in many cases confined.
However, as a young person counsellor, I'm also aware of those that found a sense of relief in being able to opt out of the school environment and the pressures that it brings, and it’s made me consider how they will cope with being back.
School anxiety seems to be all too common and this isn't just about the structure, the subjects or even the teachers. This is also about the societal structure with peers, and what it means to fit in, expectations, self-esteem, their sense of security in who they are and where they fit in the grand scheme of school life.
It’s a hugely complex issue and we adults only have to reflect on our own experiences to gain a little understanding of how complex and confusing it can be for a teenager.
And then there's the fact that none of this has been a holiday......
We have been dealt a body blow over the last few months, life for many of us has changed in ways that I never thought I would see. We have had to get used to a new way of interacting and this has been anxiety-inducing for many, including those that are ill and for families where illness is ever-present in their lives.
So what can we do to help young people feel less anxious?
Listening to their concerns and fears is always a great place to start. We as a society seem to focus on talking, but the real superpower is the ability to listen.
It's understandable that as humans and especially parents, we just want to take the problem away, to make it all better so it doesn't hurt anymore, of course, we do.
But our need to make it better can have the opposite effect and a young person may feel we are discounting their worries rather than helping. By just listening we are accepting how they feel and silently communicating that their concerns are important to us.
When a person feels heard, they feel that what they have to say is important and that they are loved and valued. But the most important thing of all, is when someone expresses their needs we have a path to a solution, suddenly all becomes more clear and we are able to work towards making things happen in a practical way.
Think about it....... every challenge you've faced in life, how have you found a path through?
Being surrounded by other people may be a real challenge after such a long time away. Look together for practical ways to calm the mind and body, this may be grounding techniques, breathing exercises, fidget objects, or even pieces of jewellery to focus on.
Taking time away from the hustle and bustle can be helpful, perhaps during break times, it would be helpful to sit somewhere quiet, or if there is no quiet to be found, listening to a favourite track can be just as helpful. Some schools have things like well being cards that allow students to leave the class when needed. It’s worth having a chat with the school to see what they can help with.
If a young person is particularly anxious then talk this through with the school teachers, encourage the young person to communicate their needs, so that their worries are recognised and everyone is on the same page.
This experience has been very different for each and every one of us, therefore our needs will be varied as we approach getting back to somewhere near normal.
Whatever your circumstance, there are ways to prepare and cope, and the best way to judge what your next step will be, is to just listen to each other.
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