School-age

5 ways to beat back-to-school anxiety

Soothe your child's worries with these fun exercises from family therapist Michele Kambolis.

By Michele Kambolis

5 ways to beat back-to-school anxiety

5 ways to beat back-to-school anxiety

Conquer back-to-school jitters

Did you know that balloons, glitter, sponges and even post-it notes can reduce anxiety? Michele Kambolis, a child and family therapist in Vancouver, recommends using children’s natural language—play—to help banish any back-to-school butterflies. Her new book, Generation Stressed, translates Cognitive Behavioural Therapy into fun exercises for parents and kids to try together. The book hits stores Saturday, September 6, 2014.

Read more: All about the back-to-school jitters>

5 ways to beat back-to-school anxietyPhoto: Candace Meyer

Build a worry wall

The Worry Wall “thought-buster” lets children use their imagination to externalize counterproductive worries by writing each worry thought on a post-it note, then building a wall that can be torn down “brick by brick.”
 
Help your child let go of the worries by writing or drawing as many worry thoughts as she can and sticking them on her very own worry wall. Remind her that once the worries have been written down, she doesn’t have to think about them anymore.

Now here’s the most important part: each worry needs a positive thought to replace it. Build another wall—the optimism wall. Encourage your child to add her hopes, dreams and favourite memories. Once you’ve built the optimism wall, it’s time to tear down the worry wall. Kids can have fun munching up the post-its in their hands, pretending to be the “hungry worry bug.”

5 ways to beat back-to-school anxietyPhoto: Candace Meyer

Do the balloon buster

Explain to your child that brain muscles are just like any other muscle in your body: The more they flex, the stronger they’ll become. This exercise helps a child grow stronger, more positive thought patterns. Help your child identify a negative belief that’s getting in the way of his or her happiness. (e.g., “I can’t do it.”)

Ask her to breathe that negative thought into the balloon, letting the thought go and leaving more room in her brain for empowering thoughts. Have your child pinch the opening of the balloon closed with her fingers. Now encourage her to release the balloon and the negative thought, letting it fly around the room.

Think of an opposite, more helpful thought. “I can’t do it” turns into “I can take it one step at a time.” Imagine breathing in that positive thought and let it take up the free space where the negative thought once lived.

5 ways to beat back-to-school anxietyPhoto: Candace Meyer

Fight fear with spray

Fear-Fighting Spray is a great way to use the power of imagination anytime an extra dose of courage is needed. Spray it under the bed, in the closet or all around for a sense of inner control when facing something scary or new. Half-fill a spray bottle with water and add a few drops of glycerin and essential oils. Add the glitter and top up the bottle with water. Put the lid on and shake it up.

Now children can create a “force field” around themselves whenever they sense anxiety beginning to take over. Use the spray to bounce back those feelings of fear.

Once the force field is up, ask your child to close his eyes, take a deep breath, and think about an empowering thought, such as “I can do this,” “I am safe,” or “This will not defeat me.”

5 ways to beat back-to-school anxietyPhoto: Candace Meyer

Make mindful glitter

Observing thoughts can be a tough concept even for adults, let alone young children. Slowing thoughts to a level where kids can “see” them is made much easier when they have playful tools to do so. To create your own Mindfulness Glitter Bottle, fill a glass bottle full with hot water, a few squeezes of glitter glue and dry glitter. Shake the glitter bottle until the glitter is swirling around, and point out that this is just like all the busy thoughts swirling around our brains.

Take a few deep breaths together, and simply notice the thoughts as they float around without worrying about what they are or what they mean. As the glitter starts to settle, ask your child to imagine that the thoughts and ideas in their mind are settling down, too, gently clearing away the thought clouds in her mind.

5 ways to beat back-to-school anxietyPhoto: Candace Meyer

Squeeze away anxiety

The sponge squeezing thought buster is a great introduction to progressive relaxation, a powerful stress reduction tool. Squeezing the sponge releases feel-good brain chemicals that relieve body tension and help kids regulate frustration and anxiety. Have kids imagine their body as a sponge that can absorb thoughts and feelings. 

Help them choose an unhelpful thought and feeling they’d like to let go of. For example, “I don’t want to go to school—I’m feeling too scared.” Take a big sponge, place it in a water bucket and fill with water. Have them squeeze all the water out of their sponge, squeezing out the unhelpful thought and negative feelings.

Choose a positive thought and feeling they’d like to bring into their mind and body instead. Imagine this positive thought as a favourite colour. Get a glass of water and use natural food colouring to magically turn a glass of water into positive thoughts and feelings. Then drink up the feel-good thoughts!

5 ways to beat back-to-school anxietyPhoto: Candace Meyer

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