The joyous laughter of summer is behind us, and the Back-to-School season is upon us, bringing along a flurry of emotions for both you and your babe. As backpacks begin to be loaded and school buses rev their engines, many parents begin grappling with a phenomenon known as “attachment anxiety.”
The transition from spending all day together to being apart for long hours can trigger a range of emotions, from fear to stress to worry, both in babes and parents. So, how can parents support their kids in this emotionally charged transition while also managing their own anxieties?
We chatted with Amber Trueblood, bestselling author, licensed therapist, and mom of four, to delve into the emotional challenges parents face as their children step into new classrooms and adjust to new routines. From recognizing the signs of anxiety in children to practicing self-care as a mom, this article aims to offer a comprehensive guide to navigate the emotional rollercoaster that is the Back-to-School season.
For those unfamiliar with the term, can you explain attachment anxiety and why it might be heightened for parents and kids during the Back to School season?
Attachment anxiety is fear and worry associated with separation from a parent or primary caregiver. After a summertime of several months, kids become accustomed to virtually 24-hour access to mom. Transitioning from a full-access mom to no mom for six-plus hours a day can be emotionally shocking for many children.
Many parents are sending their children to day programs for the first time. What are their most common anxieties, and how do you suggest they navigate these emotions?
Anxiety can show up in a variety of ways. Kids might say they’re afraid of the teacher, the homework, making friends, or getting hurt. However, not all kids will express their anxiety verbally. Some might show anxiety through behavior changes like becoming withdrawn, irritable, or agitated. I recommend parents watch for any marked change in behavior or emotionality in their children. When navigating challenging emotions, the first step is “seeking to understand.” Reflecting on the validity of your child’s feelings without amplifying their anxiety is an essential first step. Next, parents can teach simple strategies for noticing and reducing feelings of anxiety and emotional overwhelm in their children.
How can mothers balance their anxieties and emotions so as not to heighten their child’s anxiety unintentionally?
Children pick up on mom’s anxieties quite naturally and easily. Parents who feel anxious can learn and utilize preventative and in-the-moment strategies to reduce their stress and overwhelm.
Do you recommend any morning rituals or practices that can help ease both mom and child on days when they’re apart?
- Start a morning “highlights” practice where the child shares “three tiny things” they’re looking forward to that day at school.
- Create a special handshake during drop-off and pick-up (instead of a prolonged hug that might easily lead to tears and make it even harder to separate).
- Practice a mindfulness exercise where the child finds three small things in nature, two subtle sounds, and one smell to calm their nervous system.
Can you suggest some tools or exercises that parents can utilize when they feel overwhelmed?
- Focus on the benefits. Parents can reduce anxiety by listing how their child benefits from this experience.
- Healthy distractions. Instead of scrolling on the school’s social media site or calling the school to check in, work on a passion project, work at a paid job, or volunteer.
- True self-care. Spend 20-30 minutes doing a physical activity you enjoy, particularly one that doesn’t necessarily lead to income or a cleaner house.
If a child continues to exhibit signs of attachment anxiety after the initial adjustment period, what steps should a mom consider to support her child?
If a child doesn’t appear to be adjusting after three weeks, consider checking in with both their pediatrician and a child therapist who might be able to provide more specific tools and support for the entire family.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d like every mom to remember as she navigates the challenges and emotions of the Back to School season with her young child?
During Back to School Season, parents who wish to consistently care for their families physically and emotionally must prioritize their own physical and emotional needs higher on their to-do lists. Often, it’s plainly not possible to sustain their current level of functioning without significant repercussions to their relationships, health, financial life, career, or emotional well-being.