Dubai: The idea of returning back to the classroom and the monotonous routine of homework after months of freedom during the summer months can bring about feelings of anxiety for many children.
After more than two months off, children are returning home from their vacations around the world to start another academic year this September.
For many, going back to school means catching up with friends and buying new stationary.
For others, starting a new school year means anxiety about meeting new teachers, making new friends and managing the difficult classes.
The questions is, what is considered normal anxiety, and when does it become worrisome?
Dr. Candace Render, Psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia said normal anxiety for children usually consists of questions about returning to school, that suggest while they are thinking about what it will be like, they are not overly anxious.
“These questions can include “Do you think my teacher will be nice?” “Do you think that I will make new friends?” “Do you think that I will be a good student this year?”- said Dr. Render.
She pointed out that Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is defined as a condition marked by excessive worry and feelings of fear, dread, and uneasiness that last six months or longer.
For parents, keeping an eye out for any indicators of anxiety is crucial so that they are able to assist their child in the early stages.
Red flags are raised when a child “starts talking in a more negative and avoidant way, using statements that are more concerning,” said Dr. Render.
“These statements are particularly worrisome if they are repeated throughout the summer, and become more intense as the start of the school nears,” she said.
Such statements can include “I will never make any friends this year,” “I will never be able to keep up with my school work this year,” or “Can’t I be home schooled this year?”.
“Reasons for anxiety can include a fear of being bullied (including cyber bullying), fear of not being accepted by peers, or fear of not being a strong student academically, or physically such as participating in sports,” said Dr Render.
Other significant life events such as moving abroad, trauma, divorce, or a major illness in the family can also be a cause or trigger for anxiety in children.
The Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics reports that more than one in 20 American children and adolescents had a diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression in 2011-2012.
However, since anxiety and fear have been considered to be fairly common among children, which they usually outgrow, research in this area was not seen as particularly necessary until recently.
“Research now shows that anxiety disorders are the most diagnosed psychological disorders among youth,” said Dr. Render.
She pointed out it is important for parents to acknowledge how their child feels and be there to listen. “The goal is not to try and eliminate their fear or anxiety, but to help them manage it,” advised Dr Render.
It is natural for parents to feel like they want to make things better and take away anything that might be painful or difficult for their children. However, this may only help them in the short term, but will not teach them how to deal with anxiety in the future, explained Dr Render.
“Parents can help by expressing some positive, but realistic expectations about the cause of their anxiety such as returning to school,” she said.
Parents should also try to respect how their child feels, while refraining from reinforcing or giving power to feelings of anxiety.
“The goal is to let them know that you understand how they are feeling, but that you know that they can get through this, and that you will be there to support them,” said Dr. Rander.
Checklist of anxiety symptoms
• Pessimism and negative thinking patterns, such as imagining the worst
• Constant worry about things that might happen or have happened
• Over-exaggerating the negatives
• Rigidity and inflexibility, self-criticism, guilty thoughts, etc.
• Anger and aggression
• Excessive clinginess and separation anxiety
• Poor memory and concentration
• Withdrawal from activities and family interactions
• Eating disturbances
• They may talk about school or other issues excessively, and their
parents may feel that they are unable of how to calm or reassure their child.
• They may begin to act defiantly towards their parents and become distant.
• Alternatively, they may become very clingy and want to stay close to their parents, and start to seem very insecure and less condent.
• They may state that they are not going to school
• They may even refuse to go to other places in the community.