Dealing with potential anxiety of a new environment and social circles
Another school year starts soon, and it’s a new opportunity for fun and learning, but for some kids and parents there could be anxiety as the new environment, teachers and classmates present new unknowns, this is especially true for kids going into a new school such as those entering kindergarten, primary one or secondary school. Some form of anxiety is normal during times of transition, and starting school is a transition. The degree of potential anxiety would vary depending of course on the age of the child. In any case, tackling anxiety requires us to look at the uncertainties of starting a new semester and aim to turn as much of these uncertainties into certainties.
Knowing the school is the first big step, understanding what the school is about, its facilities, teachers, teaching style and philosophy is a must. All schools have at least an open day and orientation day for parents and student to learn more. As parents, it is important we get feedback from our kids on how they feel about the school. Those starting kindergarten and primary may have little anxiety related to being away from parents and home, as these kids should already be accustomed to pre-school and being physically separated from home for a few hours each day; generally their transition to kindergarten and then to primary one should be quite seamless.
For older kids who are more self-conscious, having more intense levels of anxiety can be expected. Older kids will naturally form their own opinions and they should be encouraged to voice their views and good parents must always be good listeners and accommodate those opinions and shape them indirectly if required.
For other kids, anxiety may be caused by various issues, from grades, school work to their social interactions with other kids, finding out the root causes of their anxiety is critical to addressing the problem.
Parents, as good listeners, should set an example. That way your kids can develop and appreciate emotional maturity and engage correspondingly with their friends, other kids and teachers. For those entering a new environment, emphasise that this is a new opportunity to make new friends and such opportunities are indeed rare. Parents can speak from experience and share with their kids that friends made at school likely remain friends for life. Kids are always encouraged to speak up on problems regarding social interaction such as bullying, conflict or peer pressure, ensure that they understanding that parents, teachers and school staff are always ready to assist, with the realisation that there are adults standing behind them to offer help and support on any issues concerning social interaction.
It is easy for parents to naturally fall back on comforting words when speaking with their kids, like don’t worry, everything will work out, or words to that effect. However I would advise against giving false assurances, because if challenges are encountered, your kids may be left bemused in the face of such challenges while you as a parent may lose creditability. Instead, a better approach would be to communicate with your kids and play out some contingencies and focus on problem solving. Lead your kids down the path of problem solving, train them mentally on how to approach and break down challenges and to solve each part of the problem.
The key here is to build self-confidence. The contingencies that you and your kids play out obviously will not cover all eventualities that could potentially happen, but if your kids can solve a few challenges, they should have the confidence to address other issues. Your kids should therefore understand that problem-solving skills, and variations of such skills, are ultimately the master key that opens many locks. If they grasp this concept, they become truly self-confident beings, and with self-confidence, anxiety naturally disappears.
Besides being mentally prepared, there is no doubt some prerequisites that need to be ticked off. So last but not least, double check all their homework is done. Also gradually getting back into the routine of a school schedule will help ease the anxiety of a new semester. This simply requires instilling discipline so that they go to sleep and wake up early for at least a week before school starts, while making sure all books, stationery and uniform are available. Last minute rush adds to anxiety, and this can be easily averted with enough preparation.
Being mentally and physically prepared and knowing they have support from parents and school staff, and just as important, believing in their own problem-solving skills, kids inevitably develop the self-confidence needed to displace anxiety.
Written by : Anthony Chan