How swiftly the holiday mantra of eat, love, pray dissolves into a stomach-churning school, work, stress.
For working parents faced with the life-altering moment when they have school-aged children it’s easy to feel overcome with anxiety.
And all the barrage of earlier morning drop-offs, potential flexible hours to fetch or maybe having to find a safe lift club with coinciding times for both kids, nurturing aftercare, homework, healthy lunches for lactose intolerant, fussy eaters and school fees, and uniforms and timetables.
I realize that I’m completely undermining the value of learning, but I am one of those people who had nightmares about matric exams – you know, showing up after the exam is over, or dreaming you prepared for the wrong paper – long after my matric years were over.
And now I have to go back to school!
I was one of those kids who did group projects by myself, knew the times tables like a boss and opted out of family outings to study.
And I swore second time around I’d memorise the world map, including the flags and the currencies and stuff.
Yet here I am, a week to go, and a bundle of nerves. My baby – yes, he’s six – is going to school and I can’t control what happens in the time I’m not there…
I also have to juggle all the working mom balls and it wouldn’t be normal if I didn’t worry about the one I might drop. Right?
Most articles in Back to School season are about helping children transition into new schools or new school years; while there’s very little for anxious adults who are similarly warned not to pass on their emotions to the kids, who can sense them.
Psychologist Dr Nadia Loewke helped me understand why I’m experiencing anxiety about school when its my children that have to go.
“Parents worry about every aspect of their children’s lives, ranging from global catastrophes, abductions and bullying, to simple separation anxiety. It is a fact that going back to school is as tough for parents as much as for children. And parents project so much onto their children, such as fear of being late, homework, lift schemes, after-school activities, picking up bad habits from other children, and more.
“Parents may indeed be carrying over their own school-related traumas, such as being teased for wearing glasses, having red hair, being poor, and so on. Parents themselves may be suffering from anxiety or depression and project this onto the children. Parents are human and suffer from their own struggles, finding it hard to conceal from their own children.”
The big question is how this can be effectively dealt with.
● Parents need to manage their own stress effectively.
They need to learn strategies to
ensure the stress is not passed on to the children. When children see parents employing effective strategies, they cope better themselves. They learn how to deal with uncertainty and doubt.
● Parents should try to maintain a calm, neutral demeanour in front of their kids.
Be mindful of facial expressions, intensity of emotion, and choice of words. “Explain your anxiety so they understand. Spend time with them, give them a stable home, feed them properly and communicate well with them. Tell them you love them and give them routine. If all else fails, do what parents do best, and focus on what your child might be feeling."
Commonly, children experience separation anxiety and this can manifest as school refusal. If it is overwhelming, it can be immobilising and interfere with development. “Children worry about conforming, fitting in, coping academically and having friends.”
● Stress is not always a bad thing.
“It keeps us truly alive, stimulates brain development, helps children fine-tune their social skills, learn how to handle aggression and overcome excessive shyness."
Loewke suggested I focus on prep. “Start the school routine a week before school starts; wake up and go to bed early. Get the child to plan their lunches. Talk through the steps of getting into the classroom. Make the night before school calm and relaxing, put out uniforms etc.”
She adds: “For teenagers with anxiety, create an environment that’s open, allow them to talk, and steer them from ‘what if’ to ‘what is’.
“For first-time schoolers, do a few dry runs of the route to school, set up play dates with children from the same class to create some familiar
faces. Check out the playground, talk positively, avoid drawn-out goodbyes, limit after-school activities in the first few weeks so the child is not overwhelmed. If the child doesn’t seem to be settling in, talk to a member of staff.”
A blogger whose words resonate with my thoughts is Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco at DrCBTMom.com.
She writes: “What I’ve found, both personally and professionally, is that parents are often more concerned about how their kids will fare in the upcoming school year than their kids are. At the same time, there are very few resources to which stressed parents can turn…”