While school can be fun and exciting, it is also not uncommon for some kids to struggle at the thought of being back in the classroom and away from the comfort of their home, their caregiver, and their siblings. This along with the pressures of learning, homework and navigating friendships can leave kids feeling anxious, stressed and overwhelmed, and those feelings can affect them at home, too.
Overwhelm is not a bad feeling, but a warning sign from your body that it's time to slow down, rest and take a break. When your child is feeling stressed and overwhelmed, some of the things you might notice are irritability and frustration, difficulty concentrating on tasks, feeling angry or upset, inability to sit still, and procrastination, just to name a few.
While we can't be with them at every moment, it's helpful for them (and for us) to teach them how to regulate their emotions and find healthy ways of coping when they are finding things tough. With enough practice, they will then be able to use these skills to better manage their feelings when they become stressed and sooner overcome challenging situations.
Here are a few tips:
Talk about it.
Encourage them to listen to their body and talk about what they are experiencing (body tension, restlessness, anxiety, anger). Let them know it's totally normal and okay to feel whatever it is they are feeling - there are no "bad" feelings.
Take a break.
When we ignore these queues from our body, they can quickly escalate and become harder to manage. For example, if your child is getting frustrated and having difficulty concentrating on their homework, that might be a sign they need to take a break. If that sign is ignored, the feelings will become harder to manage, and may end up leading to tears or an angry outburst.
Encourage your child to listen to their bodies warning signs so they can learn when to pause and take a break. The "pause" gives them space to better manage their feelings before they become overwhelmed and lose control.
Healthy coping skills.
Having healthy coping skills can help children to manage and recover from difficult emotions, regain control and find a sense of a calm. When used consistently, coping skills will help them to build resilience and confidence to better overcome challenges and feelings of overwhelm.
There are many different things children can do to make their feelings easier to manage - distraction techniques such as listening to music or journalling, mindfulness and breathing exercises, meditation, moving and stretching their body. Try coming up with some ideas together and encourage them to try different things so they can find what works for them.
Reassurance and encouragement.
When children overcome challenges, it helps them to build confidence and resilience, and a big part of that is ensuring they don't give up at the first sign of feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or challenged. You can help them to try again by giving them reassurance and encouragement. This might sound something like "I believe in you", "I'm so proud of you", or an encouraging reminder that they can do hard things.
Even for adults, it can be really hard to listen to our bodies and regain control when we feel overwhelmed or are in a state of heightened emotion. It's okay if it takes a while for you and your little person to get the hang of it. Continuing to practice emotional regulation and healthy coping skills will better equip your child to handle stressful situations and build on their problem-solving abilities. Over time, you will likely notice a more self-confident, empathetic, resilient and happier child.