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How to comfort your child when school is causing anxiety and upset



Cerith Gardiner - published on 10/02/20

Tips to help your child deal with the challenges of school life.

Getting an education can cause a lot of stressful moments in a child’s life — and also for the parents trying to do their best to encourage and help them! These days, in the time of distance learning, homeschooling, and lots of restrictions at school, children may be finding it particularly hard to cope. How can we help them find peace and calm as they face their challenges?

As a mom who’s tried to steer my four kids through the tricky waters of learning, including my youngest with special needs, I’ve come up with a few suggestions to help you in your efforts to help your children.

A cozy corner

One thing that has made a big difference for my 12-year-old in particular, is to have a place to chat about all his trials and tribulations. Our little corner is full of cushions and the all-important furry blanket. It’s a sensory delight for those in need of comfort — special needs or not. In a place that feels warm and snuggly, my youngest is better able to talk about what’s on his mind. He’ll often head there after school, and it’s a great cue that he needs a chat and a hug.

Listen carefully

This might be hard when you’re pressed for time, but what might seem trivial to an adult can be gut-wrenching for a child. Try not to be too dismissive when they’re going into all the intricacies of their woes, as there’s often a lot of anxiety built up over their concerns. If you have a child who’s reluctant to share, asking pertinent questions always helps. This means being up-to-date with what’s going on at school, knowing the different subjects they’ve had that day, and being aware of friend groups. If your child isn’t sharing much and you sense a problem, the teaching staff may be of great help. So take an appointment and share your concerns and chat with parents of other classmates — sometimes kids share news of what’s happened to their friends that day, and sometimes it can be very surprising.

Help them look at positives

My son’s most common complaint when he comes in the door is “I’ve had the worst day of my life!” At first this stressed me a lot until I learned how to use a scaling system. I encourage him to place his day between 1 and 10 — with 10 being at an “end of the world” range. In the beginning we were always on a scale of 10. I would then go through the day and ask him to tell me five positive things about school. While sometimes he’d spend a long time searching, other times he’d come up with little tidbits very quickly: one friend helped him pick up his fallen pencils; a teacher complimented him on his Spanish accent, etc. After a “positive conversation” the scale of disaster would drop to around a 7 — not quite so catastrophic. But, what I found is also important is to get him to scale his day when he’s had no complaints. He then has a smattering of 2s and 3s over the weeks, which make life seem a little rosier.

Acknowledge the stress and upset

When kids are feeling distressed, as with an adult, the last thing they need is to have someone brush off their feelings. Sometimes life is unfair. Sometimes it’s normal to be scared. In fact, in this case you could share some of your own anxieties and how you overcome them. It’s reassuring for your child to know that their feelings aren’t misplaced, and by acknowledging them they can then do something about them — in most cases. Case in point: My youngest started to refuse to go to school because he felt petrified of the intruder alerts. He was having nightmares for a long time after the various terrorist attacks in Paris, and the alerts were a constant reminder of insecurity. In this situation I was able to talk to the head of the school and explain that if my son was pre-warned there was going to be a drill, he wouldn’t have the same terror. This seemed to work, as he knew that he just had to practice not moving, that he could actually breathe, and the people moving around the school were staff members and not actual terrorists.

Pray together

This is a lovely way to reassure a child. You can chat about patron saints or saints who work as marvelous intercessors in cases of stress and anxiety. Take the time to share with your child the saint’s life and challenges and ask for a little help from the saint together. By placing your child’s troubles in God’s hands, the burden will feel a little lighter for all to bear.

And ice cream!

It’s worked for generations before and will no doubt work for future generations. If your child is feeling particularly anxious, take them out for a sweet treat and have a chat. Sometimes it helps to get out of the house to see that the world has many wonderful things to offer, and that any hurt or upset will pass eventually.

If your child is struggling at school, try calling on the help of these saints in the slideshow below…

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