Parents – Be the Rock

unrecognizable mother holding hands with daughter
By Principal Psychologist Madeline Sibbing

I’m guessing many of you have been dealing with the back-to-school jitters from your kiddos in recent weeks. From young to old, the transition of a new year is often an exciting, but also nerve-racking time. This year, the level of anxiety may be even higher due to the ongoing COVID outbreak and potential disruptions that this could bring. There may be concerns about the possible return of remote learning, teachers and classmates becoming ill, and having to not only find but regularly take RAT tests (I don’t think any of us will get used to sticking a swab up our nose!)

When children are feeling anxious about upcoming transitions, they can present with a wide range of behaviours, including withdrawal, isolation, hitting, shouting, irritability, avoidance of school-related topics or routines and many more. Sometimes your child may seem to regress in certain areas (e.g., reverting to bed wetting when that hasn’t been an issue for them in a long time).

If you have been observing an increase in some of these behaviours in recent weeks, it may be that your child is feeling anxious about going back to school.  And let’s face it, some of these behaviours can be hard to cope with, especially as we grown-ups manage our own worries!

So here’s my one piece of advice to help YOU help your children through this tricky time:


What do I mean?

Well, we know that children are like sponges – they watch and soak up information from adults even when we don’t know they’re doing it! They are often watching our reaction to help them gauge how they should feel.  Think about the classic example of a young child who grazes their knee and turns to their parent to see if they should burst into tears or dust themselves off and keep going! This means that we need to be mindful of how we respond to challenges and what behaviours we display. 

So what we do we do?

When we receive challenging news or are faced with a situation that sparks worry, we can try the following:

  • Go outside and take a few deep breaths before giving an emotional response
  • Debrief with another adult out of our child’s earshot before we discuss our feelings about a difficult situation
  • Ramp up our self-care and allow our kids to see that we prioritise sleep, exercise, relaxation and leisure to help us regulate our own emotions.

What does this NOT mean?

It does NOT mean that we stifle or try to hide our emotions. It does NOT mean that we lie about how we’re really feeling.  Rather, we make sure that we have had an opportunity to process our difficult feelings appropriately, so that we can talk openly with our children in a calm and measured way and can be fully present to meet their emotional needs.

It is absolutely appropriate to let our kids know that we too feel worried and anxious, but our behaviour needs to reflect a sense of calm. We can then reassure children further by explaining what we are doing as adults to cope with our worries. These coping strategies might include:  focusing on the aspects of the situation that we can control, practicing mindfulness meditation, talking to an adult or practicing gratitude.

In short – try your best to BE THE ROCK, even if inside you’re more like a ball of jelly! It’s tough, but it will help your kids feel confident and keep their own anxiety at a manageable level.   

Madeline is a Paediatric Psychologist with a Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology. Her experience covers assessments and therapy for children and adolescents, parenting support, group work and school based primary prevention work. She has worked across the education sector both in Australia and overseas. 

Madeline joined the Northern Centre for Child Development in 2017 due to her desire to work more closely with families as well as the young people in her care. She is also a board-approved supervisor who enjoys supporting the next generation of psychologists as they develop their careers.

Madeline works with all ages, from young children through to adolescents and parents. She is able to adapt her therapy accordingly, using playful, creative therapy and parenting strategies for younger children and for older children and adolescents she employs Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Solution-focussed Therapy and mindfulness techniques.

Consistently described as an engaging, down-to-earth and knowledgeable therapist, Madeline obtains enormous joy from working with children and young people… as often evidenced by the sounds of laughter and silliness emanating from her therapy room.

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