How to Help Your Kids with Social Anxiety About Starting a New School
Humans are social animals that find comfort in familiarity. Our evolution was possible because we learned to live in groups and rely on community for security, in all forms that security may look like. Taking that into consideration, when your child is moving schools, expect a significant amount of emotional turmoil to rise to the surface from the discomfort of facing an unfamiliar environment and the potential, initial isolation that it may result with.
As a parent, it is important to keep in mind the challenges that your child might face at a new school. Below are some key tips that can help you help your child process their experience and successfully overcome any difficulties they might be struggling to cope with.
First, uncover the thoughts about the situation. It’s important to create a space outside of school, where your child feels comfortable and unashamed to unload. You can accomplish this by having conversations with your child, in order to encourage your child to open up and share their true thoughts about the challenges they might be facing. Once they have opened up, it is important to help your child realize their thoughts regarding the situation. You can start by asking them what they think would be the worst case scenario and how bad would it be if that were to happen, what are the odds of it happening, and finally, what different ways they can use to cope in case that happens.
Second, teach your child to practice self-compassion. Self-compassion entails accepting oneself with all the positive and negative thoughts, feelings, and actions that one might take. In the case of a child moving schools, self-compassion might help in anticipating the negative emotions, stress, or anxiety that could result from trying to adapt to new surroundings, making new friends, and finding community. To practice self-compassion, you can help your child meditate to reduce the stress and anxiety that may arise from starting a new school. Research shows that self-compassion can help improve people’s self-esteem, which can help in new social settings.
Third, make sure your child is getting enough sleep. Some studies show that sleep deprivation alters the brain ability to fully process and penetrate social skills. Furthermore, sleep deprivation is shown to hinder the activity of the prefrontal cortex, the region in the brain that allows for complex thinking and emotional processing, both of which are highly required to process coming into a new environment.
Fourth, and finally, encourage your child to be their true, authentic self. Psychologists have found across a variety of studies that being our authentic selves works better than trying to put on a mask. Give your child a confidence boost by vocalizing how much you love them and believe in them every morning before you send them off to school, especially during the first few weeks.
Stepping into new social settings is by no means an easy thing to do for neither adults nor children. Parents have the potential to equip their children with the tools they need to overcome their first weeks at a new school by opening up to their children and helping them open up, accept themselves for who they are, and ease into their new environments with confidence and excitement.