Back to School Post Lockdown - 8 Tips to Help Your Anxious Teenager
Things have been very intense the last few months, especially if you've been home schooling and somehow having to work from home too (how do you even..?!?!?). Now Year 10 and 12 are being allowed back in small groups in some areas, and I wanted to share some tips on how to support anxious teenagers, and yourselves though this transition period.
Below are 8 simple but effective steps to support your anxious young people as they go back.
Calming morning routine
Anxiety tries to get it's grip early in the morning. The shock of waking up is often enough to send an anxious mind spiralling.
Work on a calming morning routine with your child where when they wake up the first thing they do are some calming breathing exercises, and maybe some meditation for 5 minutes (look at my resources on my website for some good ones) and have a set routine to keep stress to a minimum. This will calm the adrenaline that is trying to activate your child's body in to fight or flight mode.
If you can also deal with normal setbacks like a missed alarm, or running late calmly this will help your teen embed coping skills for themselves, so be sure to show them that although you may be running late it's not a disaster, and is sometimes unavoidable.
Kind Nurturing Steps
Anxiety steals your confidence, and it makes you think you're less capable than you are. Remind your young people how well they have done over lockdown, and how proud you are of them. Instead of jumping in to rescue them, acknowledge their feelings and move forward with them. An example of this might be "I know you're worried and that's ok. I'm here to help you every step of the way."
Speak to them about how everyone is in the same predicament, but that you've noticed how well they have done in their situation. Remember that Anxiety is one of the hardest feelings to hold, it's the human's natural response to danger. Imagine feeling threatened all the time, and you can't see where the danger is coming from. How amazingly brave is it that? Your young person is holding all of those feelings and going to school?! What an absolute legend! Facing their fears with nurturing support will show them that they can do whatever they want to.
Be Prepared...But Not Too Prepared
Preparing the schoolbag the day before with everything your young person needs for their first day at school can take the pressure off the first day back anxieties. Instead of packing their bag for them though, try to do it with them at their pace. It's also probably not a good idea to do it last thing before bed, as that won't help sleep.
Try not to become anxious yourself about this, keep it chilled. If they forget something, it won't matter, someone will help out. Tell them this. Regularly.
Keep the packing to the "must haves", and maybe sneak in a supportive note as a nice surprise.
Keep Some of Your Lockdown Routine
All of the massive lifestyle changes have been very unsettling over the last few months, and if you're like me, you've establishes some semblance of a lockdown routine. For instance, mines not too strict but I'm up at 7.30am, in bed by 10.30pm, and every day (ish) I go for a walk round the park.
Keeping some of your lockdown routine will help the transition back in to school. Reminding your young person before they leave "we can watch the 4th episode of ____ tonight at our usual time" will not only give them something to look forward to, but it will give them something to think about if they get a bit overwhelmed at school.
Be Ready For The Tiredness
Expect that when your child gets home from school they are going to be feeling extremely tired. Anxiety is exhausting (remember, it's living in constant fear) and so are lessons, homework, re-navigating friendships whilst social distancing to name a few things.
When they get home, if they want to have a nap for half an hour that's ok. It will help them recharge from the day.
One of the things I hear a lot is how much work teenagers are expected to do outside of school, and how stressed they are.
Teenagers often get a bad reputation for being "lazy", not being able to prioritise, but that has a lot to do with the stage of brain development they are at. It's not that they don't care, it's that nature has predisposed that schoolwork is not the priority, and that forward planning is nearly impossible.
The prefrontal cortex is still developing (until 25 yrs old!) and thats the bit that governs forward thinking, prioritising and more complex thought processes. Did you know that your teenager is going throught the second largest stage of braain development they will ever have in their lifetime? The largest is when you are born.
When they come home from school instead of asking "how were your lessons?" or "what homework have you got?", try "how are you feeling after today?" and "What do you need?". Trust me, it will make such a difference, and will probably lead to them telling you all about their lessons and homework!
Travel Sizes Anxiety Toolkit
If your teenager gets regular anxiety and panic attacks, it can be a really good resource to create an "anxiety toolkit". A travel sized one may include some slime in a small tin to squeeze when anxious, small affirmation notes, some essential oil to smell that they find calming, a soothing picture, and reminders of what breathing exercises to reach for in a panic attack.
These are one of my favourite things to co-create with my clients, and it's so great to see what things they come up with themselves. Teenagers are so imaginitive, and so resilliant.
Self - Care
Coping with bad anxiety is exhausting, and looking after someone who has anxiety is also exhausting. You both need to ensure you're doing all the self-care things to nourish your minds and bodies.
Ensure you both get enough sleep, eat well, and do some exercise regularly. Notice stress points and tell yourself you need a break. Identify things that help you or your teen relax, and things that you enjoy, and do them regularly. See your therapist, reach out to friends and support networks, and above all, be kind to yourselves.
I hope some of these tips work for you. Let me know in the comments below if you have other ideas for anxious teenagers returning to school.