Carmen Irene de Lisa Marques

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Back to School and Separation Anxiety

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September has been a tough time for everyone, especially for teenagers and children.

 

After a very long time away from school, they had to go back with a lot of restrictions and measures for their safety and their teachers.

 

Most of them have shown an incredible amount of strength, giving us a valuable lesson adapting to our new normal. They have learned the proper distance they need to maintain from their peers, they wear their masks at all times, wash their hands as many times as we remind them, and learn new ways to greet their peers and adults. And they have made this whiteout complaint.

 

They know that there is a virus out there that could endanger their family and friends. They don't want to be held responsible for hurting one of their loved ones, and this has been their main motivation to follow up all the rules and restrictions we have submitted them too.

 

Nevertheless, with all the changes and uncertainty they had gone through, over the last six month, and with the constant reminder of the possibility of getting ill with the virus, separation anxiety has been a common feeling for some children and teenagers over the past month.

 

This disorder appears when children believe there is a higher probability of something terrible happening to, mainly their parents or to their most closer caregiver.

 

If we also take into account that for the past six months, most of them have shared their home with their parents regularly seeing them, and having them close, they have grown more attached and used to be always with them. Now they have to go back to school, which means they will be away from their parents for at least five hours, where they are not going to see them and make sure that they are safe.

 

They are afraid of something terrible, like having the virus, happening to their parents or loved ones. Likewise, they are scared of making any careless mistake at school that would put their families in danger.

 

What could we do to help our children and teenagers to help them cope with this anxiety?

 

The first thing we need to do is recognise the fear they have, and put feelings into words. Ask questions like are you afraid of something? Does going back to school scare you? Why? Then empathise with them with phrases like "If I were in your shoes I would feel the same"; "It's okay to feel like this/or feeling these emotions"; "Going back to school must be tough nowadays, I think you are courageous/sting".

 

Once we have gathered their feelings and named them, we need to set strategies to battle those fears. 

 

  • Comfort your child, don't lie to them telling them that everything is going to be okay because you don't know if that affirmation is right. 

 

  • Accept your feelings and share your fears with your children. Tell them that it’s okay to feel scared, but you are going to approach the school with baby steps. Each day that he spends at school is a battle you and your child have won against the anxiety.

 

  • Practice relaxation techniques before going to bed and before entering school. With little children, you can use a balloon, ask them to fill it slowly and then as you let the air out of the balloon expel the air that has filled your lungs very slowly. Use the square of breathing, breath in, retain the air for five seconds and then exhale it very slowly. Repeat it four or five times. 

 

  • Write down or do a draw about their fears, what happens with them, which are their thoughts, their feelings, what they are most afraid of. This would help them to elaborate on their feelings and put them behind. Writing and drawing could be very therapeutic.

 

On the other hand, as parents, you should be aware of your feelings. Most of the time children and adolescents reflect their parent's emotions and behaviour. Suppose you are worried about our current situation and are nervous regarding the uncertainty that represents the future. In that case, it is important for you to be aware of all these thoughts and feelings.

 

Once you recognise your feelings and thoughts the next step would be to accept them; realise where those feelings and thoughts are coming from; if they are based or not on reality; If they are accurate with the situation; After that, the following step would be doing something to cope with those feelings and thoughts, to lessen the overwhelming effect they could have over yourself. Any activity that would help you reduce your anxiety would be beneficial. 

 

It is very important being in tune with your emotions, knowing where they are coming from will help you to recognise them in your children and find ways to cope with them. 



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