Can toddlers and teens be anxious about returning to school?


Most people prefer the familiar and shy away from the unfamiliar, so facing a new school or classroom space, new teacher, new classmates and higher level of work can be overwhelming for children of any age, including those going off to college.

Firstly be aware that unusual aggressive behavior or unusual isolation could be a red flag that they are having big feelings inside that they do not know how to name, identify or process.

Having loving conversations to listen to their concerns and offer reassurance is always the best place to start. Bombarding them with suggestions can sometimes add to the anxiety so its best to coach them by having them process whatever they are feeling.

A question to help them process feelings, after the feeling has been identified is: “ So what do you think would help you feel less scared, worried, anxious?” “ Is there anything I can do to help you feel less anxious? Think about it and let me know”.

This approach meets the child’s need to be heard and validated.

Older children could be lacking confidence, especially if they did not perform as well as they had hoped in the previous years academic measurements. Offering them private tutoring support is always an option. Finding retired teachers and mentors to assist in this in only a few phone calls away.

Avoid responding to children’s and to people’s feelings with comments such as “ Come on, get over it! Don’t take that on! Grow up! Don’t be so silly!” etc.

Many of us do this and we think it is being encouraging but the unspoken message here is that we think they “should” not feel the way they do.

Who are we to dictate how people “should” feel?

Many people eventually do not feel safe to express their feelings when they repeatedly experience having their feelings shut down. This approach leads to feelings being suppressed and suppressed emotions and feelings eventually lead to deep shame, fear, anger and all sorts of misbehavior and antisocial behavior.

Many people’s brain functioning is also deeply affected by suppressed feelings.

The ability to process language, calculate, comprehend, remember and think clearly can be affected by suppressed emotions.

If we want academic excellence from children providing a stable emotional atmosphere is ideal and when that is not possible they must at least have avenues to vent or process their feelings. Sports, dance and exercise are superb ways for people to release emotional energy.

Another caution re not acknowledging other’s feelings is that when we do not care to hear how others are feeling, they will seek out people who will listen and care. So the question becomes ‘Would you like to be your child’s confidant or are you happy for them to turn to peers who may offer them dangerous ways to cope with those feelings, namely alcohol and drugs or promiscuity?’

On a practical level how can we prepare and support young children?

  •  Facilitate them meeting or bonding with the teacher and visiting the venue or classroom before the first day where possible.
  • Facilitate them bonding with at least one classmate by arranging an outing with that classmate and parent before school opens or during the first few days.
  • Allow child to carry a small object of comfort with them to school. If their favorite small stuffed toy is not enough then maybe a family photo will do or a small item belonging to mum or dad.
  • Role playing at home with dolls or stuffed toys is always helpful, having child verbalize how they would prepare or encourage another child (teddy) who is scared.
  • Sharing personal stories or those of friends and relatives who struggled and devised their own coping strategies is often well received. People don’t particularly like advice but they are open to hearing about other’s challenges and success stories.
  • Visualizing and rehearsing the good bye at the school door or gate can be reassuring as well as assuring that you will be back at the pick up spot early.
  • Giving the teacher a heads up about the child’s emotional state can help and asking the teacher to assign your child a task as she arrives is a good distraction tactic, this removes the focus off the parent and onto the task to be done.
  • When preparing to leave home on a morning it’s very helpful to make time for light giggles, this discharges anxiety in people. A fun chase game, or tight hugging routine can be set up.

Dr Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting highly promotes helping our children transition through the various phases of the day with special connection routines 3 times per day.

This offers our children greater emotional stability and a chance to recalibrate feelings. She says they benefit from this upon going to bed at night, waking up and upon returning home from school.

It is simply a time to give them undivided attention, ask how they are feeling and validate their feelings.

How do we validate feelings? Similar to above, simply asking in a calm respectful way:

“How are you feeling?” “ I’m here if you want to chat about it or I can just listen.”


“Hmm, I notice you seem _____________(irritable, angry, annoyed, frustrated, exhausted, tired, weary, looking down, sad, lethargic), would you like to share with me about that?”  “Let me know if I can do anything to help, even just listen”.

8) Being organized with school and work clothes, lunches, books and briefcases etc from the night before so as to reduce morning scrambles is always beneficial to both parent and child and especially getting enough rest to face earlier rises. Leaving home extra early can provide a calm departure, journey and drop off time, all of which can reduce anxiety and make facing the unfamiliar scenes easier.

Feel free to share your strategies for reducing back to school anxiety in your kids.

Empathy First

Maya Angelou said “When you are gone, people wont remember what you said, nor what you did but they will remember how you made them feel.”

When we empathize with people, validate their feelings, listen to their stories, care to ask how they are really doing, make time for them we make them feel good. We meet their need to feel important, significant, that they matter, that they are worth it.

One of my sons, when 13-16 yrs old, used to often stick his head into my room after school to rattle off stories of how (in his eyes) he was treated unfairly by teach. As he showed his face, I would immediately put down my book and give him my full attention. All I used to respond with was, “hmmm, wow, sounds like that must have been annoying for you” or “ Yes, I think I would feel frustrated too if that was me”.  He would actually tell me later in the day that he felt much better and had clearly let the incident go.

We are emotional beings….energy in motion. We are meant to express ourselves, not suppress emotions. We create havoc with ourselves and others when we discourage or disapprove of others expressing their feelings. Suppressed and repressed emotions literally clog up our thought processes.  I know people whose memory, focus, rational thought and comprehension have been severely compromised by them not seeking proper counseling after trauma.

We must provide a safe space for our children to express their feelings. We can teach them an appropriate way to express negative emotions such as fear, shame, pain and anger which by the way is very linked to fear.

We create a safe space for others to share by primarily being good listeners. Secondly by NOT looking to preach or criticize or offer advice after others have opened up to share their stories, pains, hurts and disappointments or mistakes.

Just listening with empathy builds trust and they are likely to return to tell us more.

Why would our children or anyone for that matter be inclined to open up to share themselves with us if they won’t receive validation but receive criticism or advice on how to get over it. Will we be surprised therefore when they seek it from people who are not a good influence on them?

What does empathic language look like?

Here are scenarios and examples of Empathic Responses (ER)

When Tina (10 yrs) forgot an important book needed for homework at school.

My ER was: “ Oh my, that must be annoying for you. What are you going to do?”

When Tim (2-5 yrs) was pelting toys or slapping others.

My ER was: “It looks like you are frustrated, what can I help you with, come lets get a drink of water, or lets go outside for a walk”. I removed him from whatever frustrated him. He was too young to explain what he was feeling and why, but I helped him name a probable emotion, understood his feeling and sought to sooth or comfort him by taking him for a drink or walk.

Stay tuned for ideas ofways to allow children to express their emotions.



Stress free Shopping with kids.

It was easy for me to remain calm and not feel hassled while shopping with my kids when I learnt some cool Love and Logic tips. Here they are, I am happy to share them with you.

My favorite to use with older kids was:

When asked “can I have that?”

I would respond “ Sure, with your own money”. This would shut them up pretty quickly. It reduced the begging for things by 80 %…….what a relief! I found their constant asking very irritating and energy draining.  Note this is a way of saying NO with a YES, clever positive communication!

Off course we can use this only IF they have money, and mine were good as saving birthday and Christmas money as well as working summer jobs.

Another favorite when they asked for one treat in the grocery and then another and another,

I would say “sure you can have that as long as you put the first one back, you choose” (there was usually a cost limit off course).

What about little children touching? Most shops we take little children into have items that are safe for a toddler to hold.  Why not have them hold items for us? At groceries they can dump them into the cart, or just carry them? This actually makes them feel important. A deep psychological need every human has!

Back to the touching, it is good for little ones to learn not to touch, but let’s keep our expectations reasonable. It is not fair to put them into enormously tempting situations when they have not yet developed will power. Just think how many years it has taken you to develop your own will power, far less a 30 month old!

Discussions regarding appropriate behavior can also be helpful prior to the outing and so too role playing.

Happy shopping with the kids and don’t forget to commend them for their nice behavior. Let’s catch them doing things right and noticing, rather than constantly just noticing and correcting the undesirable behavior.

I’d love to hear of your tricks and tips for happy shopping with your kids. Feel free to share.


Chores can help them with their schoolwork.

Every now and then I come across parents who do not believe in getting their children to do chores. I know one argument for this approach is that the children will not do a satisfactory job and the parent will have to redo or complete the chore so they rather not face that hassle and so prefer to do it themselves.

Another argument is the hassle of just getting them to listen and do the chores in a timely manner.

I cannot stress enough what a huge disservice it is to not require your children to do chores.  Firstly doing chores prepares them for the real world. Secondly, it gives children a feeling of belonging and importance in the family, their contribution is valued and so builds self esteem. Finally the tediousness of doing chores actually trains them to handle the tediousness of study and schoolwork.  I saw clear proof of  this with one of my sons. At around the age of 7 he was lacking focus in school, so we added him to the family dog feeding schedule (each boy had a duty to feed the dogs for one whole week, there being a few brothers older than him, he only had to do it every 4 weeks).  He was also assigned other small chores. The term he was given these responsibilities his school and homework performance significantly improved. It was not a coincidence. Many psychologists and parenting experts agree with this approach.

How young can they start doing chores and what chores are appropriate for what age children? This is a very important question and must be carefully considered. Some parents go to the other extreme and make their children do too much, and give young children adult responsibilities, so much so that they rob the child of child play, these children become like little adults by the age of 9 or 10.  The deprivation of healthy play can have adverse effects on the child later in life.

So what are age appropriate chores? And how well must they be done?

I’d say children as young as 4 can start sponging dirty spots off walls, fridges, mirrors and furniture. They can push a mop, broom or vacuum cleaner around. Water house plants and scrub shower stalls, wash toys and plastic dishes. Outdoors, raking leaves or transferring them to big containers is easy and so too is helping to wash the car, to name a few.

WARNING: do not criticize chores not well done. Demonstrating how you want it done is best. Clearly describing what a job well done is like is also helpful and my favorite approach when the job is unsatisfactory is to remind them what is expected THE NEXT TIME they are about to do the same chore. Eg “ Hey honey, remember when you wash the car this time, to wipe evenly so as not to leave dust spots on the doors”.  “ Hey sweetie, when you vacume this time, remember to do the corners”.

Asking them how they feel about their accomplishment at the end can be a good self esteem builder so don’t forget this part. It can also be a prick in their conscience if they know that they did not put their all into it.

No matter how its done, always show gratitude and express that you value their contribution.

Get the gist?

Stay tuned for the next post about how to get them to actually do the chores without nagging.


Relationship Building with Teens

My 18 year old asked me last night if she could go swimming at the beach we were vacationing near to. Off course my first thought reaction was ” is she crazy, people don’t swim at a beach at night”, but then I recalled my wonderful memories of my youth doing that very thing, and how delightful it was. So I let down my overprotective guard a little and said why not! I even suggested her younger sisters go along for the experience and due to the location of this particular beach I watched over them. The novelty was over after 15 minutes and all were happy for a new experience.

Loosening up on our rigid limits, letting go to spontaneity, allowing a little flexibility on our norms to have some fun with our children can be very healthy and relationship building.

Can you recall a time when one of your children dared or asked you to do something out of the ordinary and potentially fun and you were resistant? I encourage you to step out and allow yourself to indulge a bit. You only stand to gain! Take time to recall YOUR youth days and the fun, daring things you did….without your parent’s consent! So indulging your children in a few little simple daring activities, consenting, can only benefit the relationship and not harm it.

Besides a swim at the beach in the dark (there was some light from a nearby lamppost btw), we had ice cream before dinner, what’s the big deal? We were driving back from sightseeing and we were passing the ice cream shop, rather than go back there after dinner it was logical to stop and have ice cream first…. we are on vacation… it’s no big deal… again it’s out of the ordinary and the kids are amazed to see such flexibility and letting go of rules for one day in a year…’s nice to hear them say ” you are so cool mom”!  Wow I was really daring. I also jumped off some highish rocks into the sea that they were jumping off from. Dad surveyed the territory first to ensure it was safe.  Another cool mom thing to do…especially at the age of 56!

I’d love to hear of your safe and daring fun things you are your kids/teens have been doing this summer. Feel free to share.