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How to Prepare Your Anxious Child for the Last Day of School

As the end of the school year approaches, many anxious children may begin to exhibit nervousness, worry, high levels of motor tension (such as restlessness, shakiness, muscle tension), hypertension, irritability, and autonomic hyperactivity (such as shortness of breath, dizziness, rapid heart beat, dry mouth, nausea, and diarrhea). They may present over-reactive to situations and have difficulty concentrating in school ("My mind is going blank!"). It is also quite common for them to experience somatic complaints (such as stomach pains and headaches).

At home, your child may experience difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. If your child's anxiety is severe, he may experience symptoms of panic attacks as a result of fear.

If any of the above symptoms are occurring with your child and are significantly affecting his or her overall functioning, please consult with your child's pediatrician.

How Can I Help Relieve My Child's Anxiety?
Take a deep breath, and be proactive in these essential steps before the end of the school year:

  • 3-4 months before the last day: Determine your budget and what summer camps, programs, or activities you can afford. Start the discussion with your child on what interests her. Get her involved and excited about the summer, regardless of your budget. Some of the best activities are those you can create in your own back yard (like making smores by a camp fire).
  • 1 month before the last day: Finalize a childcare plan and have an idea of what a typical summer day might look like. This does not mean that you have to plan an activity for every minute of the day. It is healthy for your child to have a scheduled time for "self-play." This fosters creativity and imagination. However, a typical day should have somewhat of a routine, so the child has an idea of what to expect. If a special activity (such as a trip to a fun park or vacation) is coming up, prepare your child ahead of time by visually showing the date on a calendar. (You will know how much advance time your child needs depending on her anxiety).
  • 2 weeks before the last day: Have a discussion with your child on what he is feeling. Help him to identify accurate emotions so he can begin to increase awareness and recognition of his triggers. Talk with him about what is means to "say goodbye." Some children are afraid they will never see their friends or teachers ever again. Help to separate the real from the imagined. End the discussion with a positive "goodbye activity." Have your child make a card or gift for his friends or teacher and reflect on past experiences while encouraging him to seek out new experiences.
  • On the last day: Help your child pack or bring in gifts/cards to school. Empower your anxious child by reflecting on her feelings instead of denying them: "I know you may be feeling nervous (or whichever feeling word she used) about today, but I'm so proud of you. Your feeling nervous shows that you care a lot about others and that makes me very happy. I care about you and I'm looking forward to our plans for the summer!" When your child comes home from school, listen (without interrupting) and validate what she is feeling.

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