How to help your child deal with with School Anxiety
by Gretchen Zagzebski, MEd, LPC, Child & Adolescent therapist at Inspire
Fall is upon us and many students are feeling a surge of school anxiety as the demands of school pressure intensify. Maybe you are seeing that too? If so, you are not alone! Here are some of the tools & coping strategies I have found effective with my clients this fall.
The underlying strategy I use is called “Connect, Redirect.” Coined by Tina Bryson, author of The Whole-Brian Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, this tool helps children learn coping strategies and feel confident using them on their own.
The key is that before we redirect a child that is feeling a negative emotion, you connect first. This involves high levels of soothing body language such as a calm tone of voice, gentle touch and empathetic facial expressions. Once the connection is made and your child is calm, it opens up space for them to be receptive to redirection.
Redirection involves coming up with solutions, making a plan or discuss logical explanations. If we can connect first, the brain is not only open to redirection, but it opens to important neurological rewiring so that the child can eventually cope with the negative emotion on his or her own. Without the connection piece, children will not be able to understand redirection let alone solidify this step in their brain to use in the future.
So, what are some tactics to facilitate this connection and help calm children when they are upset?
Here are some of my favorite grounding tools:
children to de-stress and unwind. Creating slime is considered a sensory activity that allows children to get out of their heads and into their bodies. It allows them to expel pent up energy, both good and bad, in a healthy way. This is not to mention the amazing conversation that can come out of creating slime as a group! This connection piece is also key to why children love creating slime together or with their parents.
2. Calming Glitter Jar – This is a tool that can be used as a grounding technique.
If a child is feeling particularly distressed, it can be difficult to come down from that elevated emotion. This is where the Calming Glitter Jar comes into play. If you shake the jar, the glitter will spiral around in a whirlwind of sparkle. This is similar to how a child’s emotions might feel. Allowing the child time to watch the glitter as it gently falls to the bottom of the jar can actually do the same thing for his or her emotions – calm them right down. This is a handy tool to help your child feel more grounded and centered.
3. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – This is another grounding technique that can be used particularly when high levels of anxiety or panic are presenting and involves a simple dialogue. Ask the following:
- What are 5 things you see around you? However, big or small, state 5 things you see.
- What are 4 things you can touch around you? Whatever it may be, list out the 4 things you can feel.
- What are 3 things you hear? Whatever you can hear at this moment, list out.
- What are 2 things you can smell? Whatever it may be, breathe in the smells around you?
- What is 1 thing you can taste? Focus on your mouth and what you can taste.
This is another strategy that can be used to get children out of their heads and back into their bodies and can be particularly helpful with panic attacks.
4. Here & Now Stone – This exercise can be done with a stone from the backyard or any object available in the moment. I would recommend having painted stones on hand for whenever a grounding exercise is needed. Have you child roll the stone around his or her hand. As you ask the following questions, your child can think about the answers in his or herhead and does not need to answer them aloud:
- How does the stone look? Does it have ridges? Is it different colors or only one color? What do you see?
- Next, what does the stone feel like? Is it smooth? Is it bumpy? How does it feel?
- Next, close your eyes and see if the stone feels any different when you can’t see it? Is it smooth? Is it bumpy? How does it feel?
- Next, hold the stone close to your ear and rub your fingers over it. Does it sound like anything? Do stones have a sound? Can you hear something?
- Finally, smell the stone for a moment. What does it smell like? What does it remind you of?
- (If it’s edible, you can always use similar prompts for tasting as well but don’t eat the rock!)
The amazing thing is that when a child is using a Here & Now Stone, rarely does he or she think about whatever it was that was worrying him or her previously.
These are just a few examples of tools that can help children not only feel calmer but that can also allow you the space to connect and redirect. For my clients, I see that some tools work better than others, so try them all and tailor them to fit your child’s needs. Good luck, and let us know if you ever need any support!
Written by Gretchen Zagzebski, MEd, LPC, child & adolescent therapist at Inspire Counseling Center.
To reach Gretchen, email email@example.com or (847) 919-9096 x6.