Kids are starting school and transitioning back into the routine can be difficult for all kids. Special needs kids may have many struggles, but another population of kids whose transition struggles are just as intense is gifted and talented kids.
Their difficulties are often overlooked. For these special learners the emotional intensity of starting another school year can be very overwhelming. Many gifted kids have high energy and intense curiosity levels. Sometimes this evolves into profound worry, too, if they can’t find healthy ways to cope with the upcoming changes.
Gifted children’s back-to-school excitement may be viewed by others as excessive, the behavior almost hyperactive. Their persistent questions may seem like nagging and their imagination of what will be, irrational. Their passion for learning may be disrupted and replaced by extreme fears and anxieties of going back to school. Back-to-school time may turn from one of happy excitement to one of worrisome distress and apprehension. This is normal intensive reaction and behavior in many gifted kids.
Here are some tips on helping children cope with back to school anxieties by Paula J. Hillman, PhD, LPC.
Begin having family conversations about back-to-school, using positive self-talk techniques. In doing so, you can gradually prepare your child for the upcoming school experiences. Pay attention to what your child or teenager is saying and help him/her replace negative thoughts with more positive ones. Find out what questions or anxieties your child may have, then deal with them calmly, rationally, and one slow step at a time.
Let your child or teen know how it was for you. They need to know that parents are not omniscient beings who live in a world where only success exists and life is without worry.
Most kids think life for most everyone else is a cakewalk. Perhaps some role-modeling will help. The parent plays the kid, and he or she takes on the parent advisory role. Have them close their eyes and imagine what the worst thing is that could go wrong. Follow this with some creative problem solving conversations. Big brothers and sisters, or trusted friends can help guide your child, too.
Relaxation techniques can help reduce stress. Practice deep breathing with your child. Pick a quiet, private place to start. It may help your child to have one hand on his or her tummy and the other over the heart to help understand and self- monitor the importance of breathing.
Once deep breathing has been mastered, help the child or teen learn to slow breathing down by counting and holding. When we are stressed or anxious our muscles tighten. This can lead to physical complaints such as headaches, backaches, stomachaches, etc. The first step in progressive muscle relaxation is sitting comfortably with feet flat on the floor or reclining slightly. Begin with deep and slow breathing and gradually call attention to parts of the body, encouraging relaxation.
Separation anxiety can occur at any age, not only for young children. Young children may engage in behaviors such as clinginess, crying, and throwing tantrums. A teenager’s behavior usually masks the separation anxiety and may look more sullen, uncommunicative, disengaged or disinterested. However, the fear can range from minor to extremely intense. Emotional meltdowns and/or emotionally charged refusals to go to school reflect the latter.
Make sure you are comfortable with your child’s school and communicate your satisfaction both verbally and nonverbally. Have a routine or ritual planned out. Practice it and use it consistently.
Accompany your child to the school and stay a short period of time. After school, have a plan to communicate about happened during the day. Make sure it is a quiet relaxed time. Some children and teens prefer a private time with a parent to do this, so setting up a time and a routine to do this with your child, or with each of your children is a good idea.
Do not reinforce your child’s anxious behavior. Give your child a “transitional object,” something that fits his or her age. If you think separation anxiety may be a challenge for your child, you may find gradual desensitization helpful. Let your child’s or teen’s behavior guide you in providing the support they need. If needed call the school counseling or social work staff for tips or to set up some meetings with your child. Professional counseling outside of school is also an option.
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