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What’s really bothering your kids?

Kids have been exposed to a lot in the past two years – the pandemic, remote learning, masks/no masks, and school shootings. Some have been hesitant to return to their school buildings, places they thought were safe. But before we assume that one of the awful aspects of life listed above is what has your child concerned this fall, you may want to ask. And if you ask, you may want to help.

Kids hear the news (or people talking about it). Inflation, the high cost of gas, businesses with limited options due to lack of staff, lack of money, the war in Ukraine . . . These topics (plus others) cause concerns for our children, often more than we know. As parents and educators, we need to pause and ask what’s on their minds as they start back to school this fall.

What we discover may not surprise us. Who will be in their classes, how they’ll fit in, will they make new friends this year, will their teacher like them, can they be successful in what they are learning – the normal concerns of children starting a new school year. However, we may also be surprised. For the child whose parents have been talking quietly for months about the tough decision of gas versus food or rent, the worry at the start of this school year may be related to basic needs and if they have money for school lunch. For some, the concern may be basic safety.

Much information children have may not be accurate. This is one reason why it’s important to ask what their concerns are rather than assume. Once a child has shared what’s bothering them, ask them to explain what they know. Listen for misunderstandings or rumors. Provide facts and answer their questions keeping in mind that your child’s age and experiences will help guide the level of detail you provide.

Helping children feel less helpless is a gift we can give them. Give them three to five things they might do in any situation to help them feel more in control or have more ownership. Whether concerns are big or small, teach children ways to deal with them. One method might be Pause-Breathe-Name-Ask.

  • Pause – Stop and recognize that something is bothering you – that you are worried, scared, or strongly affected by something. You may notice a strong emotion has popped up.
  • Breathe – Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Figure out what is bothering you. Is it the teacher, or is it the math you are learning? Are you worrying about your family and lack of money or the stress your family is experiencing that is causing everyone to be angry or sad? Notice where in your body you are feeling the emotion.
  • Name – Give your concern (or emotion) a name. Once named, you begin to take control of what you are feeling. The emotion itself begins to lose intensity (however slightly) once named. Having a good vocabulary to describe emotions is useful here.
  • Ask for help – Worry can make one feel alone. Find someone to talk with. You may not be sure someone can help, however talking about it (naming it) helps move to the next level emotionally. It allows you to begin to find ways to deal with the feelings.

Ask the question. Understanding what is bothering our children is the first step. Helping kids name the issue and the variety of emotions that surface helps them identify what they are feeling and make sure they have the facts. We can provide additional information and understanding to support their processing. We can also provide ideas for concrete actions to take to respond to a situation or emotion. We can help them build their preparedness and resiliency. Starting the school year with clarity of what’s on children’s minds is critical to helping them be in a good place to learn and grow.