Tag Archive for: Kelly McClarnon

By Kelly McClarnon, LCSW – February 17, 2022 –

When I started as a first year school social worker with years of experience in a clinical setting, I was surprised by how many kids were coming to my office with symptoms of anxiety.

Manifestations of anxiety can take on many forms. In addition to some children having physical symptoms that can’t be attributed to a virus or illness, anxiety may also involve kids thinking upsetting thoughts and conjuring up wild “what ifs.”  

To make matters worse, I’ve met with several children who have lost a loved one due to COVID-19. Grief adds to the complexity of understanding the world around them.

Here are a few things both parents and school staff can utilize when faced with a student who is struggling with anxious thoughts.

  1. Try belly breathing. Ask the student to place a hand on their chest and a hand on their belly. Tell them to expand their belly instead of their chest with each inhale. This teaches them how to take deep breaths which can physiologically calm the mind and body.
  1. Use mindfulness techniques. This can look like praying with the child or asking them to name things they are thankful for (it’s hard to be worried when they can articulate their blessings). Ask them to clear their mind and just picture a blank space for as long as they are able.
  1. Help them put their worries into perspective. Sometimes just stating what their worries are out loud and having a supportive person help them put things into perspective can provide reassurance.
  1. Have open conversations. Let them know their concerns are valid and that you understand why they may be worried. Reassure them that it’s ok to talk about their worries. We do not want children to feel anxious about feeling anxious.
  1. Name their worries. One term that I’ve often heard used is “the worry monster.” Explain that this is a bully in our mind who is responsible for making them (and everyone else) think worrisome thoughts. When those thoughts come up, tell them to tell the worry monster to go away!
  1. Make a list of coping activities. Listening to music, journaling, reading, physical activity, and getting outside are all great outlets that can help students minimize anxious thoughts.
  1. Model and teach healthy behaviors. Children need to see their caregivers modeling healthy ways of managing worries and stress. They will learn from your example. 

For the children I see, there are so many unknowns. Will school close again? Will I be cut off from family/friends?  Will another important event be cancelled?  Will I get sick? Will my loved ones get sick? Children are still often isolated with events being cancelled, quarantines, and some in-person activities taking place virtually. All these factors contribute to the increase in anxiety that mental health professionals are seeing. 

This is not an argument for or against the restrictions put in place due to Covid-19, but an effort to raise awareness that the changes in our everyday lives are impacting our children’s mental health. Teaching children how to manage anxiety so it doesn’t spiral out of control is an important part of nurturing a child. Hopefully the strategies above can help the next time you have a child struggling with anxiety.

By Kelly McClarnon, LCSW – December 29, 2021 –

Christmas break is underway! As a Youth First Social Worker, I have met with several students who have difficulty transitioning back to the classroom after weekends and school breaks. My observation is that many of these kids also struggle with feelings of anxiety.

The pandemic has caused many children to complete schoolwork from home due to school closures, quarantines, and parental choice to avoid exposure to the virus. Spending long periods of time at home in a more relaxed environment is much different than a structured school setting with increased rules and expectations. At school, increased peer interaction can amplify these feelings of anxiousness in some children. 

Below is a list of things parents can do when their child is having difficulty transitioning back to school:

  1. Have a consistent routine at home. Children thrive on routine. Making sure they know what’s coming next can help kids feel more secure and make transitions smoother.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest. When children feel tired, transitions can become more difficult. Being rested is essential to optimal school functioning and improved mood and mental health.
  • Talk with them in the car on the way to school or before they leave. Ask them how they are feeling. Try to avoid leading questions like, “Are you anxious about going to school today?” Instead, try saying, “How are you feeling today?” This gives them the opportunity to identify how they are feeling and process those feelings prior to arriving.
  • Try listening to uplifting music, talking, or praying to distract them from negative thoughts. If your child rides the bus, allow them to take a journal with positive messages they can read on the way to school. 
  • Reassure your child that it’s not actually the situation (school) that’s causing them to feel scared, nervous, or anxious – it’s the thoughts they have about it. 
  • Sometimes kids have legitimate reasons to want to avoid going to school such as problems with other peers, mental health concerns, and learning disabilities/academic struggles that make it difficult for them to keep up in school. Addressing these issues can lessen a child’s fears by knowing they have the necessary supports to help them succeed.
  • Do not allow them to stay home from school even if they are having a difficult morning. This will only reinforce that avoiding school is acceptable when feeling upset and will make it even more difficult for them to go the next time school is in session.
  • Praise your child when they transition to school successfully. Encourage them that facing their fears will actually reduce their anxiety in the long run. Teach them that uncomfortable feelings and emotions will pass.

Some difficulty with transitions is completely normal. It’s even hard for adults to go back to work after some time off. However, if you are having continual issues with your student transitioning to school, contact the school social worker. They are there to help identify why your child is struggling and will help you address this difficulty.