Recognizing Distress as the New School Year Approaches

Written by Leanne Matlow

All learning and growth occurs when we push ourselves to try new things and, even when we fail, we get back up and try again.  

There are certain behaviours that parents and/or teachers should watch for in a child’s behaviour, in order for adults to recognize their signs of distress. It is important to remember the importance of looking for the intensity and the duration of the child’s reaction. If the behaviour occurs only once, the cause may be hunger, exhaustion or a just a bad mood. But, if the behaviours are repeated or consistent to specific situations, intervention may be required to help the child learn to cope.

Three behaviours to watch for:

1. Avoidance— the hallmark of anxiety—ask not what your child is doing but rather what he or she is NOT doing.

2. Lack of flexibility— gets stuck— unable to shift focus from their own idea, feeling or opinion. The child gets distressed when faced with changes or transitions.

3. Rudeness or Uncooperative Behaviour — space invaders— unable to keep from touching other people or their things, or constantly interrupting others and not understanding social boundaries.

As the school year begins, preparation is essential to good coping skills. Take the time NOW to show your child how they will get to school, where they will play at recess and, if you can gain access, what the school looks like inside and where the bathrooms are located. Get all school supplies early and take the time to label them: because they are important. 

Do not be dismissive of feelings and comments regarding uncertainty. It is normal to be nervous before starting something new. Listen and remind your child that they are not alone. Remind them that you believe in their ability to handle new situations. Remind them also that school is a place for learning and it is good to ask questions. Finally, remind them that you will be there to help them navigate the new year but remind yourself to step back so they can succeed.