I've had a really busy week with clients preparing to start a new grade in elementary school or make the transition to middle school, high school, and college. Although each of my clients is so unique, the concerns they tend to share at this time of year are very similar. The boil down to the Three L's:
-Who will I sit with at LUNCH?
-How will I get into my LOCKER?
-Will I get LOST (and as an addendum to that one, will I be LATE?)
For anxious kids, I think these fears point to a few very important lessons to be learned:
-All adjustments take time. Every kid is going to have a hard time getting into their locker the first week of school. Everyone is going to get lost on their way to class in the first few weeks of school (and might even be late). Every student is going to feel uncertain about who to sit with at lunch. I tell kids that by the end of two weeks, they will feel pretty good. With respect to friendships, it will take longer. For college freshman, it might take several months to find a group of like-minded kids who really make you feel at home in your new surroundings. All of this is normal and should be expected.
-The only way to succeed is to ask for what you need. If you can't get into your locker, ask a friend or teacher for help. If you are lost, ask an older student. If you are alone at lunchtime, ask to join some kids who look nice. What is the worst thing that might happen? Test out this fear. In all likelihood, this fear will not come to pass. For example, if you fear that someone will laugh at you if you ask where your next class is, test it out. In all likelihood, the student you ask will point you in the right direction or even walk with you to help you find the way.
-Anxious kids often fear doing the wrong thing and getting in trouble. Ask yourself, "What's happened in the past for me?" or "What would happen if this happened to another kid?" For example, in the first week of school very few kids get in trouble for coming into class late. Remind yourself that when you've made a minor mistake in the past, the world hasn't ended - you haven't even got a detention! These is generally wiggle room for kids to make little mistakes, and even if a teacher says some sharp words, you can handle it!
Good luck with the new school year - and send me any questions or concerns you'd like me to address!
I am a licensed psychologist working with kids, teens, and adults with anxiety disorders.