Back-to-school jitters

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New school, new clothes, new friends are just a few of the novel things children must get used to when the school year begins again.

“Who is going to be in my class? Who is my teacher? What am I going to wear?” are questions that race through a child’s mind that can provoke social anxiety, explains Thomas Holmes, a registered psychologist in Morinville.

Anxiety in parents on the other hand, is caused by wanting their children to be safe and fit in.

“Parents are giving over their child to teachers. (They’re) losing a bit of trust and control of the situation,” says Holmes.

What results when kids are anxious and parents are anxious, is anxious families.

Anxious families is the subject of a free parenting workshop being held at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre on Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m.

The event, organized by the Sturgeon School Division, will feature Lynn Lyons, a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and author of the book Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents.

The workshop was created to address the increasing number of students suffering from high stress and anxiety disorders, says Bev Sagert, director of early childhood and transitions support with the school division.

“We are seeing an epidemic of stress and anxiety in kids,” she says. “This is a wonderful opportunity for families to learn how to manage the stress of everyday life.”

Stress is contagious

We learn through watching others. When children see their parents not being able to manage difficult situations in a healthy way, they follow suit, says Holmes.

Parents fall into a “protection trap” when it comes to sheltering their kids from anxiety, says a new study published in the Journal of Child Psychiatry and Human Development.

Falling into the “protection trap” can involve giving reassurance in the face of anxiety and fear, thus propagating the idea there is something to worry about. Parents are also guilty of allowing their children to avoid situations that are scary or uncomfortable.

Stress and anxiety can trigger a physical response in children, such as a stomach ache, explains Holmes.

When a parent tells that child they don’t have to go to school “that shuts down the amygdala (part of the brain) and it causes the worry to go away, but then the cycle of avoidance begins,” he says.

One of the best things parents can do is talk to their kids about stress and anxiety.

“Anxiety is normal, at some point in time everyone will get it,” notes Brian Jackson, a local registered psychiatric nurse with a doctorate in addictive disorders.

“Know what is normal for your child and anything that is abnormal, talk about.”

Be available for emotional support and don’t put additional pressure on kids, such as asking why they aren’t achieving better marks, says Jackson.

“Think about it: it’s bad enough for them at school without you adding to the demands. Make sure they have plenty of free time, rather than a packed schedule of activities. Teens need to relax too!”

Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents

Thursday, Aug. 28
Morinville Community Cultural Centre
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Free for the public, child care provided

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