Caring For Our Kids

Helping your child cope with end-of-the-year anxiety

The last day of school can bring up a lot of emotions. Photo: galleryhip

It is hard to believe we are closing in on the end of another school year. It always seems to go by so fast. Endings can be challenging for children, especially when the ending is as impactful as a school year. For the last two years, my daughter has missed the last day of school. One year, we were so worried and in the emergency room several times with her suffering severe stomach pains. The doctor turned to me and asked, “Is she stressed?” I had to hold back the laughter — stressed? What could a 7-year-old possibly know about stress? It turns out she had severe constipation, and one contributing factor was uneasiness about the end of a school year. Stomach pains and headaches are common ways that anxiety or stress can manifest itself. So what can we as parents do? Here are some tips we have learned that might help someone in your house who is feeling a bit anxious.

Slow down. The end of the year is full of parties, special activities, and extra events both in and out of school. It is important to try to keep your child’s routine as normal as possible. If your child appears exhausted or run down, then cancel some activities outside of school. Make sure your children continue to get enough sleep at night and have some down time on the weekends. It is also important to make sure they are drinking enough water, eating healthful foods, and not loading up on too many sweets. Slowing down will help ensure that life isn’t so hectic that you miss some signs of stress. The majority of young children aren’t able to communicate feelings of anxiety or stress, so look for other signs such as behavior changes. Last, keep the communication lines open — make sure there are opportunities, maybe before bedtime, for your children to talk about their days and how they are feeling.

Utilize the village. As parents, one of the most amazing tools or resources we have is our “village.” We all have one, whether family members, friends, neighbors, or teachers. One lesson I have learned is that if you think your child is having a hard time, don’t suffer alone; instead, reach out and ask for help. Teachers or school counselors are a great resource for issues around end-of-year anxiety. They are with our children and their peers all day, so they can help identify any behavioral changes at school. If you do see changes, address them immediately, and don’t wait in hopes that they will “blow over.” Other parents are also always a great resource, as you may quickly find you are not alone, and your child may not be the only one having a hard time.

Say goodbye. If goodbyes or endings are difficult, you or your child may be tempted to take the easy route and therefore just skip them. Try to avoid letting this happen. Saying goodbye and having closure, especially on a school year, can be a valuable lesson and a tool your child will continue to need throughout life. If your child is sad about saying goodbye to a teacher, encourage him or her to write that person a note to say what a great year it has been. If your child is worried about saying goodbye to friends, organize some summer playdates or coordinate attendance at summer camp together. Another part of being able to successfully say goodbye is knowing what comes next. As parents that may mean taking time to talk to your children about summer plans and letting them play an active role in choosing camps or planning activities.

All children react differently to change and crave consistency at different levels. Some can’t wait for school to end, but for others it may be harder to say goodbye to the routine and to friends. It could also be mixed with anticipation of the next year or grade level especially if there are significant changes like moving from elementary school to middle school. The best thing parents can do is be there to listen and help our children develop coping tools so that the transition to summer is smooth and stress free.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]