Is It Holiday Anxiety, Or Something More?

By Dustin Plattner, Psy.D.

managing anxietyThe excitement of the holiday season is here, and that can mean big adjustments for parents and children. Parents are getting ready to take on the holidays by planning for family coming into town or getting their own families ready to travel. For kids, school is coming to a break, and they get to relax. By this time, children have become more accustomed to the new routines of the school year and managing assignments and homework.

But the holidays can also be a turning point for parents and their children if adults discover their child is having more difficulty adjusting to the routine of school and the demands of schoolwork, which might lead to disruptive behaviors and poor school performance. This shift in their child can be difficult for families to understand and manage and can leave them wondering whether this is typical.

To determine whether these behaviors are typical or something more worrisome, parents must consider two factors. The first is to pay attention to your child’s specific behavior during and after school. The second is to note when the disruptive behaviors began and how long they have lasted. These two factors can help clarify a typical reaction to the new school year or uncover something of greater concern that could affect your child into the future.

What I mean by “specific behaviors” are ones that are disruptive, hard to manage and get in the way of a school routine. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Is your child continually having difficulty staying on task during schoolwork?
  • Is your child’s teacher sending more notes home regarding classroom behavior?
  • Does your child seem sadder or easily irritated?
  • Are they refusing to follow instructions at home more than usual?
  • If your child is younger, is he or she having more tantrums before and after school?
  • Does your child complain about stomachaches or headaches more often, especially at the end of the weekend?

If these behaviors began more recently and only have lasted a couple of weeks, then your child’s problem is likely not clinical and is more of a phase. If they are lasting longer or began much later, this could be an indicator of a longstanding clinical issue that would be best resolved with professional help from a child psychologist.

For example, if your child begins to lose focus in school and complains about stomach issues for a few weeks, it could be the beginnings of a depressive episode, as children tend to show signs of depression through complaints about body pain. Or if your child continues to struggle with disruptive behaviors in the classroom and at home, it could mean the start of an anxiety episode. This is because children sometimes have a tough time putting words to complex feelings of stress related to schoolwork and instead act out in disruptive ways.

Hopefully, knowing this will help you act more effectively to improve your child’s well-being and developmental process. In addition, having more clarity on the issue can

help you and your children enjoy the holiday season even more.

Dustin Plattner, Psy.D., is a clinical child psychologist and president of the San Gabriel Valley Psychological Association (SGVPA). In his private practice in Pasadena, he works with children, adolescents and families. He is also the clinical school psychologist at a private school in Pico Rivera.

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