Beat the back-to-school blues   -take 5 minutes each day to talk about feelings

Published Categorized as coping strategies, emotional literacy, emotions, resilience

I am sure most adults can recall the feelings towards the end of each August when the return to school loomed. I remember the dread of leaving the carefree days of the summer holidays behind me, to launch into the routine and relative full-on-ness of the demands of school. Other feelings I would admit to having would have been anxiety, uncertainty, sadness, resistance, irritation and disappointment – if someone had asked me! I would have loved such a conversation. Not only would I have felt understood and cared about, I would also have felt better.

A 5-minute check-in with your child at the end of the day on feelings is beneficial every day but it can especially provide the reassurance a child needs before they return to school. Speculating about, what your child is feeling is an excellent way to open up conversations about what’s on their mind. Using feelings to prompt conversations, replaces our tendency to overload children with advice, with more of a two-way conversation. Children can then start to learn how to solve problems for themselves. Start with the possible feelings and then consider what could be done about them – even if that is sometimes just learning to accept them.

Another helpful part of a 5-minute focus on feelings each day is that it will bring your own emotions into greater awareness at this transitional time. Most of us don’t deal well with our children’s emotional discomfort. We’d rather dismiss their unenjoyable emotions, pretend they’re not there or distract our children to cheer them up . If we’re not overly aware of our own feelings, we might also pass on our anxiety to our child. In the long run, none of this will help your child learn to self-regulate or develop coping strategies. It’s far better that you fully acknowledge, validate and talk about emotions and be a consistent, calm and soothing presence, whatever they are feeling.

Another response to our children’s emotional discomfort is to jump in prematurely to try and sort everything out and ‘make things better’. This is really to soothe our own discomfort. Sorting everything out for your child is unhelpful. It’s far better to help your child understand they can be self-reliant by using emotions to instigate problem-solving conversations. If you child says, ‘I think I won’t have anyone to play with at break times’, don’t rush up to the school to ensure a playmate is provided. Hear the feelings behind what your child is saying and use it to open up a conversation. ‘I hear that you’re worried about being lonely at play times,’ can be the start of an explorative conversation where the least the conversation will do is make your child feel better, and the most is that your child works out what they are going to do about the situation.

When it comes to the return to school, we’re asking our children to deal with a lot of change: the return of routine after the summer, probably a new classroom, a new person to sit next to, a teacher’s different ways of doing things, more challenging work and probably more. Most of us find change challenging. Moving away from what we know into uncertainty can make many of us wobble. With a 5-minute chat about feelings, you can explore how your child feels about each of these specific changes. You can also reassure your child that others will be feeling the same apprehension and that in about two weeks’ time, school will feel ‘normal’ and any unsettling feelings to do with the changes will probably be behind them. It can also reassure children to remind them about what will stay the same e.g. home life, weekends etc.

It’s helpful to continue with the 5-minute check-in as term gets underway. A lot of things happen in a school, and lessons, friendship issues, requests made of a child, amongst other things, can all trigger anxiety.  Maintaining conversations about feelings each day can mean your child continues to feel listened to and better equipped to manage situations that arise.

My books in the Let’s Talk Series: How Are You Feeling Today? How Are You Feeling Now? Will You Be My Friend? and What’s Worrying You? (published by Bloomsbury) can all be used as bedside prompts for these 5-minute conversations about feelings. They don’t need to be the only bedtime book, but 5 minutes dedicated to one of these books each evening will put feelings healthily on your and your child’s agenda and ultimately increase resilience at this and every testing time of year!