Behavioural modelling: Managing your own worry can help ease nervous children back to school

Primary School 10 Jun 20 By

Clinical Psychologist, Dr Danielle Einstein says how we behave matters.

As kids across the country are heading back to school at last, Clinical Psychologist, Dr Danielle Einstein says parents need to rethink how they are managing their own worry as well as their kids because it isn’t working.

UNICEF’s recent report found that 55 percent of young Australians say they aren’t coping with the impact of COVID-19. Dr Einstein says that “the conversations at home and in the classroom provide too much reassurance and do not encourage students to understand and tackle worry themselves. Reassurance feeds the cycle of anxiety and while it might make everyone feel better in the minute, it doesn’t promote wellbeing, in fact, it undermines it. We need to teach kids and teachers how to master their own ‘uncertainty bombs’ with clear strategies.”

Read Dr Einstein’s tips for managing our own worry to help our kids below …

Dr Danielle Einstein
(Image: Supplied)

Dr Danielle Einstein is a leading expert in managing uncertainty and is passionate about changing community responses to worry to minimise anxiety.

Over the last few months our kids have picked up on our worries, and they continue to pick up on them. Now as they return to school, they grapple with their own worries on top.

We are nearing the end of term and assignments are due and students who are less confident will face up to the learning they have missed with mixed emotions. They may not share their worries with parents because they don’t want to add more to our emotional load.

Unchecked worry contributes to anger and low mood. As we ease our children back to school, now is an ideal time for us to learn how to support them.

Here’s what you can do to manage worry before it becomes a problem …

Tip 1: Catch a worry before you voice it!

Identify anxious thoughts (picture pesky mosquitoes biting your children). Think of it as applying mosquito repellent. When we understand the cycle of worry and anxiety we can model healthy responses. For the sake of our children and given continued uncertainty in employment and schooling, learn how to air and manage worry constructively.

Tip 2: Be sceptical of what you read and hear

Cast your mind back to the beginning of the pandemic. Many parents were understandably thrown by looming financial or health concerns. Worries were discussed at the dinner table as parents tried to explain the seriousness of the lockdown to their children. Anxious thoughts were fuelled by social media and international news. These anxious thoughts led to panic shopping, and ‘less than’ considerate behaviour in the supermarkets. Sensationalist stories and rumour triggered thoughts and emotions.

(Image: Getty Images)

Students who are less confident will face up to the learning they have missed with mixed emotions.

Tip 3: If a financial worry has resolved let your children know

With children returning back to school, now is the time for parents to check in with their children. As weeks and months have passed, parents have worked through the worst case scenarios and felt some relief, yet are quick to block memories of the initial days.

They often have not shared new information around finances. An Australian UNICEF report released a couple of weeks ago showed that 37% of Australian children were concerned about loss of family income.

Tip 4: Do not respond to worry with reassurance; learn to endure uncertainty

If a worry hasn’t resolved providing reassurance is often a parents first instinct. Corrective information is useful when a situation has resolved (see tip 3). However, when a threat remains, reassurance is not the best way to help children manage uncertainty. In fact, reassurance feeds anxiety, because the child relies on the parent to keep on providing it when they feel anxious. When a client presents with anxiety, psychologists work hard to help them refrain from seeking reassurance from others. Reassurance provides temporary relief. It feels good in the moment, but in fact it undermines the person tackling the fear on their own and supplies the vicious cycle of anxiety.

WATCH: Cockatoos practice social distancing. Continues after video …

Tip 5: Understand your instinct to stamp out uncertainty.

One of life’s challenges is learning to manage uncertainty and anxiety. Those who do not fear uncertainty develop less psychological problems. We have released a program to teach parents and students how to recognise and manage their worries and unhelpful responses to uncertainty. It uses images, scenarios, exercises, videos and meditations. It will change your view of worry and arm you with the tools needed to support your children when they worry.

For more information see

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