A child psychologist has shared some advice for children — and parents — about how to navigate heightened anxiety as students head back to school this week.
Emma Woodward from Child Psychology Services said kids have gone through “a lot” in the past few years, referencing Covid-19 and weather events, and said the stress of returning to school after a long summer break adds to the disruption.
“We’ve just had this period of the longest holiday of the year and the routines were probably set more around our preferences, rather than our demands like work and school. And we’ve got to shift back into that routine that probably isn’t one of our own choosing at times,” she said.
Woodward shared with Breakfast host Jenny-May Clarkson that being able to actually label feelings of anxiety is a “sophisticated skill” many children wouldn’t be able to articulate and it was the job of parents to monitor the behaviour of their children for cues.
“We need to make sure we don’t get anxious about their anxiety because then we join their chaos rather than share our calm,” she said.
“When the anxiety becomes overwhelming, it stops us doing things that are potentially beneficial”.
Woodward emphasised the importance of parents honing their own anxiety management skills to help their children navigate anxieties without stepping in and “taking over”.
“Our job as parents is to make that assessment whether this is something my child needs to be anxious about, or is there something I need to support my child through this anxiety to help them learn how to cope and manage,” she said.
She said children picked up on adult anxieties without parents realising, citing an example of paying over $1000 for school uniforms and stationery for her four sons.
“I try not to pass that stress on to my children because they don’t need to go to school and stress about grown-up things,” she said.
Her main advice was self-reflection and modelling how to manage anxiety as an adult.
“Take a breath. Take a beat. And noticing when we’re activated. Which is hard because we’re busy and we’re going back to work too,” she said.
“We reflect and we understand that it’s difficult for us; it’s probably difficult for our children and we model how we manage that because we have the benefit of experience and our kids don’t, so we have to start with ourselves in the first instance.”
She said any parents seeing their child suffering with signs of anxiety should advocate for them on their behalf and create a safe environment for them to work through any issues.
“Teach them that they are powerful, brave, resilient and courageous and they can manage the change.”