Remember how you felt the night before school started as a kid? The nervous excitement. The butterflies. Your backpack is filled with supplies, your lunch is packed, your first day of school outfit is laid out. You try going to bed early, but to no avail… you’re restless because of the anticipation.
I recall one year when I was very young, feeling that same way. I was telling my mom that I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find my classroom. She reassured me – there would be helpers there, and I would find my way. She helped me get on the bus and waved goodbye, affirming that it would be ok. I remember getting off the bus at school and starting to panic. We had visited the school, met my teacher, and saw my classroom. When we visited, I was with my mom, and she knew the way.
I started feeling panicky as I scanned the pathways in front of me. There were several options. As I stood there trying to recall which direction I should take, I heard this voice from behind me, “Little girl, can I help you?” The voice was calm and reassuring. I turned around and was surprised to see my mom standing there. I had been so focused on trying to make the right decision that I had not recognized her voice. I ran to her, thrilled to see a familiar face, and she walked me to my classroom. Her guidance gave me the boost of confidence I needed to navigate the school hallways on my own from that point. And within days, it wasn’t even a cause for concern. My mom knew that she would be on-site as a volunteer. That’s why she was so sure I wouldn’t get lost. She knew she’d be there to help me make sure that I got where I needed to go safely.
The truth is, as the first day of school approaches, it’s common for kids to feel worried as they anticipate all the changes they will encounter as they go back to the classroom. Kids worry about a lot of things when it comes to school. They may simultaneously feel excited or fearful or anxious, just as I did. As parents (just as my mom did), we try our best to prepare our children so that they are set up to succeed.
This year may feel exceptionally more difficult to some. In addition to the first day jitters, the uncertainty and impact over the past year of all the Covid related implications have taken an emotional toll on everyone. Life as we know it was disrupted. For school-aged children, it presented a host of new, unique stressors that previous generations never dealt with at such a young age. Things still don’t feel entirely “normal” like they did before, and who knows when they will.
It may help you to be more aware of what causes worry and anxiety among the different levels of school-aged children. According to findings published by The Conversation, here are the things that children worry most about in terms of returning to school.
• Preschool children worry most about being made fun of, being left out of something, and separating from their caregiver at drop-off.
• School-Age Children have graduated to concerns around exams, not wanting to be at school, challenges with teachers, and feeling lonely.
• High Schoolers have more mature worries regarding feelings of how to cope with stress, relational issues, decisions about higher education, and even mental health concerns.
As parents, it’s our job to guide them through life experiences to learn and grow from them, just as my mom did with me in the hallway that day.
Parents have been more curious about how to best support their kids’ emotional well-being as they move into an uncertain future. The good news is that you can do lots of things right now to make sure your family stays healthy and strong through this time.
Get curious about any odd behavior and what the underlying cause might be. Maybe your child seems a little more nervous than usual or just simply not as excited to return to school as in previous years. Perhaps they’ve been steadily trying to convince you to let them stay home. Maybe they’ve been clingier or have regressed in their behavior. These are all signs that they may need some additional support.
Parents should look out for any of the following changes in behavior as they may be signs of stress or anxiety:
● a change in eating habits such as loss of appetite, weight gain or excessive food consumption.
● an increase in sleep problems including insomnia, nightmares or night terrors.
● increased irritability or anger.
● difficulty concentrating at home or at work.
● trouble sleeping.
● changes in mood or personality.
● loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies and interests.
There is evidence that children turn to their pets for comfort, reassurance, and emotional support. If you’re recognizing signs of stress in your child, it may be time to consider how an Emotional Support Animal can help them cope. If you observe severe symptoms, it’s best to consult with your child’s pediatrician. If they feel that additional services may also help your child, they can provide the appropriate referrals for you to receive the best care for your child.
Pets provide companionship and a sense of belonging, especially to those struggling with emotional issues like depression. Kids often find that having a pet gives them a safe space to express their emotions. Thus, children who have a pet can cope better with loneliness, isolation, and other feelings. And they find security in having a pet that is always with them.
The online publication Very Well Family lists some practical strategies to help reduce anxiety in children. One strategy that they suggest using is to “Help Them Change the Channel” which is simply helping them to shift the focus of their thoughts from negative things that they can’t control to things that they can control. This strategy helps switch the channel from a state of constant worry in order to improve their mood.
Additionally, when kids help to practically care for a pet – even just getting them moving, which might include running around outside, taking the dog for a walk, or playing a game – those activities provide the movement needed to help a child re-direct their restless energy. In addition to the benefits of movement and being outdoors, essentially, an ESA helps them “change the channel” from the topic they are worried about and helps to adjust their mood to a more positive one.
An Emotional Support Animal can help young students with school concerns by taking their minds from their worries. Taking care of their Emotional Support Animal would also be a great after-school activity!
Adapting to new routines is not easy for most people with Autism. They thrive on routine and find disruptions to their routine very upsetting. Autistic children can have a rough start to the school year. However, children with Autism tend to bond quickly with pets.
Research also shows that for children with Autism, interacting with a pet has both immediate and long-term benefits. “Children with autism may especially benefit from interacting with dogs, which can provide unconditional, nonjudgmental love and companionship,” says Dr. Gretchen Carlisle. Dr. Carlisle is a research fellow with the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.
Dogs specifically are known for their loyal companionship and friendship. A family dog with a calm personality can provide steady support, consistency, and familiarity, which would greatly benefit a child with Autism.
Children with Autism often need assistance with developing social skills. Pets can teach them about friendship and provide a bridge to ease into conversations and develop social skills with others.
Pet ownership among kids translates to increased social skills, more confidence, and better self-esteem. Statistics have shown that kids with pets have higher self-esteem and confidence because they talk to the animal in ways that they wouldn’t with humans.
Children can practice friendship and social skills with animals. According to experts, children who own pets have better interactions with their peers since a pet gives them something to talk about.
Pets have been shown to have a positive impact on children. They not only help us to feel comforted, but when children interact with a family pet, their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development can improve.
Studies show that petting a dog helps reduce stress levels and even lower our blood pressure. Emotional Support Animals can be incredibly calming to their owners. Just think about it – have you ever held a puppy and been upset? It doesn’t happen! They have such a calming influence on us.
Learning to care for a dog has been proven to teach children responsibility and practical skills. Pets also provide caregivers with opportunities to teach and model caring behaviors and consideration of a friend’s needs – critical social skills for navigating friendships.
Sometimes, when life feels like a little too much, we get to the end of wanting to “Adult,” and we need to pause and reset. We need to understand that kids are no different, and we should offer them the same opportunity. Emotional Support Animals have been said to be an anchor for kids and can become a refuge from stress, anxiety, or other negative feelings they may experience. It’s been shown that when kids can self-regulate, they perform better in school and everyday tasks because they can focus without negative distractions. Ultimately, helping kids learn to manage their emotions sets them up for success for the rest of their lives.
Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.
The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you on the path. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!
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