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How to Help Kids with the Sunday Scaries and School Dread

Helping kids who worry about the upcoming school week with a simple method.

Key Points:

  1. Kids get the Sunday Scaries when they dread school on Monday.
  2. School dread can prompt anxious or defiant behavior in kids.
  3. Use mindfulness with the Sigh, See, and Start method to explore that dread and help you connect with your child.

The Sunday Scaries

Who has not felt dread before work or school? Our kids feel it before school, and as adults, we can relate because we may feel it before work.

The creeping anxiety and dread that heralds the impending school and workweek are often called the “Sunday Blues” and more recently have been coined the “Sunday Scaries.” And while in my practice, kids are delighted to be back at in-person school after almost a year and a half of at least partial remote learning, they still get the Sunday Scaries. And that can lead to some very tense Sunday evenings for families dealing with their kids’ anxiety, or the angry acting out that anxiety can trigger.

Fortunately, there is something we can do about it. But before we can get to the practical tools to help kids through their Sunday, we need to understand the core emotion involved: Dread.

Understanding dread

Dread is one of the worst emotions. It is essentially the fear of fear itself, the anxiety about experiencing pain or anxiety. It is so unpleasant, that research shows most people will choose to face intense pain right away rather than have to wait for what they dread. Researcher Helen Pearson writes about dread, “Expecting something horrible can be horrible in itself.” In fact, dread is so horrible, it actually activates the pain circuits in our brain. 

The typical advice about dread is to get your mind off it with distraction. And that works, up to a point. But underneath that distraction is still dread. (I’ve always wondered if distraction actually helps or just makes the dread feel even scarier.) And for parents, especially with the new challenges of safety for kids during COVID, as the weather turns colder it can be hard to find a distraction for their kids without just turning to screens.

But another research-based strategy for dread is to get through it. While avoiding anxiety is a motivating force; it is better to process it, rather than be paralyzed by it.

And that is exactly what parents can help their kids to do: to process the dread of the school week rather than allow them to be paralyzed by it.

Sigh, See, and Start

Here’s one approach to your child’s case of the Sunday Scaries: A strategy I designed called the Sigh, See, and Start method.

Sigh. 

It’s something we do under pressure anyway. When we sigh, the deep breath in and the slow breath out directly calm our nervous system. If we sigh deliberately, it’s a chance to connect with our bodies and our emotions.

See. 

Really try to see what that dread is trying to tell you. Imagine it’s a part of yourself trying to tell you something and see what it is trying to say.

The See step is mindfulness. It means we don’t wallow in the dread, instead we approach it with objectivity like: “Hey, Dread you’re trying to tell me something about this week, I’ll listen to you and then I’m going to think it through and see if I agree with your perspective here.”

What might your child discover when they ask Dread what it’s trying to tell them? Perhaps it’s a social interaction that’s not going well. Perhaps it’s an upcoming math test. But if your child can’t verbalize what they dread, then the issue may be purely feeling overwhelmed.

School can be overwhelming in the best of times: kids have to keep track of assignments, stay on task despite distractions and even when the task is boring, and manage their social interactions. And for many kids school is simply overstimulating. There is too much going on and too much sensory input. Adding the additional rules that COVID has made necessary only increases that overstimulation.

Now that you and your child have Seen what’s going on, it’s time to Start.

Start.

First, Start thinking about solutions. Second, Start making a change on the weekends so your child feels more fulfilled and recharged before the school week. Third, start morning check-ins with your child and do whatever they think will help them prep for school. (Note: introverted kids may have a treasured morning routine and want to be left alone during that time.) Start making a plan for weekend reevaluations so you can plan to keep trying different things until you find what works.

Most importantly, by acknowledging the reality of the Sunday Scaries with your child and normalizing their feelings, you’ve already gone a long way in helping them feel less alone.

Get your copy of Dr. Escalante’s Ultimate Parenting Checklist! Originally published at PsychologyToday.com.

How Parents Can Keep Kids Talking To Them

“I know the day will come when he won’t talk to me anymore.” Parents say this to me in my pediatric office all the time. There is an idea that one day teenagers, particularly boys, won’t want to talk with their parents anymore. But that is simply not true.

Parents can create a family culture of communication so that kids will keep wanting to talk with them as they get older. And that’s not only great news, it’s essential. Because when things get tough for our kids, it’s important that they know they can come to us.

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Parents Can Use The Movie Dune To Help Kids With Fear

When our children are afraid, parents will do whatever they can to help them feel better. If children struggle with fear in an ongoing way, it can create a problem for the whole family. Parents want to both comfort their child and make sure that they gain the skills to manage in the world. But how?

The popular movie Dune holds a surprising answer: the content of the famous Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear. The litany may be fiction, but it’s packed with solid psychological advice. If parents use Dune, they can engage their child’s imagination and teach them how to overcome fear.

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Why High Achievement Cultures Can Kill Kids’ Love Of Learning


Most parents believe that setting their kids up for a successful life means sending them to a good school. If their student attains academic achievement then they are on their way to a happy life, or so we believe. Then in 2019 the National Academy of Sciences designated kids at high-achieving U.S. high schools as an ‘ at-risk ‘ group for mental health problems.

Now, new research suggests the problem with high-achievement cultures is an international one and is particularly intense around math. The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, identifies “a complex process in which national culture promoting high math achievement drives down interest in math schoolwork.” And the problem is worse for girls than for boys.

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Research Shows These Parenting Beliefs Help Kids Most

More than anything, parents want to do their best for their kids. But every parent I know lives in the pressures of the ShouldStorm, which bombards them with shoulds. Always telling them what they should and should not be doing to maximize their child’s development. 

Now, new research from the University of Chicago has shed light on a sinister way the ShouldStorm actually drives parents to undermine their child’s development, all while thinking they are helping. It all comes down to what parents are told is good for kids. 

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How Parents Can Help With Kids’ Back To School Anxiety in 2021

For kids, going to school has never felt more uncertain than it does in fall 2021, as they enter their third school year affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Will they be able to keep going to school or will their school shut down, as some already are? What if they get COVID, or what if they bring the Delta variant home to siblings too young to be vaccinated? Will they be okay?

Now more than ever, parents need to know how to help their kids navigate all the usual school stress,  plus deal with the fear and uncertainty they face during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Practical Parenting Ideas to Keep Your Child From Vaping

Simon’s mom stepped into the hallway so he could talk with me alone. I asked him the usual pediatrician checkup questions. But when we got to the questions about alcohol or smoking, Simon shared that he had been vaping for more than a year.

Simon told me he was scared. At 13 years old he had developed chest pain and a cough he and his friends called vape cough. That was because they vaped too, and they also had the painful cough.

Unfortunately, research shows that it’s tough to get kids to quit vaping, due to how addictive it is. So the key for parents is to try to keep their kids off vape and juul in the first place. New research, which I recently covered for Forbes, has found that what parents and pediatricians have been doing isn’t working.

But the good news is that the research also shows what DOES work. When parents make their kids feel supported and help them set positive goals for their futures, kids are much less likely to vape. In this post, we’ll look at how to actually do that.

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Why Your Depressed Kid Won’t Go To School

It’s a familiar visit in my pediatric office. The frustrated parent brings their child to see me because they won’t go to school. The young person, usually a pre-teen or adolescent, has been increasingly anxious about school. And now, the child can’t even get up in the morning, so the missed days of school are piling up.

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How To Tell When Your Kids Are Lying To You

What parent doesn’t want a foolproof way to tell when their child is lying? Now researchers have identified distinct sound signatures we use when we are lying or telling the truth.

The folded socks were lined up in an evenly spaced row running down the hallway. Again. It had been happening for days. I’d gather the socks up and before I knew it they were laid out on the floor again. Clearly someone was playing a trick on me, but which of my kids was it? When I asked my son about it he hesitated and looked to the side, and there was something about his voice when he said it wasn’t him that made me feel sure he was lying.

Being able to tell when kids are lying is a skill every parent wants. It’s true that some lies are easy to pick up on: a child whose room has just been designated a disaster area by FEMA is lying when they say they have cleaned it. But other lies are much harder to detect.

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