By: Jessica Chapman, LCSW
Transitioning back to school can be hard for children and teens. Summer is fun – lots of playing, less structure, no homework – and the thought of starting the school year routine fills many kids with dread. Here are a few tips on ways to help support your children and teens as they start back to school:
- Validate Your Child’s Feelings: Your kids are going to be grumpy. Please don’t overreact. When our kids get cranky with us, we often get cranky back. Give them some grace and when these crabby moments happen, try to name that feeling for them. Ask, “I wonder if you are feeling grumpy/anxious/worried about school starting back? I know I would be feeling that way.” This lets them know that you understand and opens the door for a conversation and connection. It is hard to see our kids feeling badly. Our tendency is to become a cheerleader and push them into feeling excited or hopeful. Resist that urge and focus on validating your child’s feelings. Simply give them some nods as they grumble and then a big hug when they are done.
- Show Your Kids How Much You Care: On the first few days of school, find a few simple things to show your children that you love them. Some ideas are slipping a sweet note in their backpack, having a fun treat waiting after school, making time in your schedule to drop them off and/or pick them up, going out to dinner/making a special dinner to “celebrate” the first day back, and finding undistracted time to talk with them about their first days. Once the school year gets going, it can be hard to find time to connect with busy schedules. We recommend finding at least 5 minutes a day to sit with your child and give him/her your undivided attention – no phones, no TVs, no homework, etc. In that time, you could play a game, talk about highs and lows from the day, go for a walk, throw a ball…anything! Just set aside that time for your child. It can do wonders for your relationship.
- Identify Coping Skills: Sit down with your child and help them identify a few coping skills to use at school. Here are a few examples of discrete coping skills that are good for the classroom: deep breathing, drinking cool water, picturing the people that love us, positive self-talk, counting or saying the alphabet in our heads, tightening and releasing our muscles, and squeezing something. Always let your child know that they can go talk with a trusted adult if their anxiety gets too intense.
- Manage your own anxiety: Kids are great at reading our emotions and they often take their cues from us. If you are anxious about the school year starting then there is a good chance that they will be, too. It is your job to model positivity and confidence while not pushing it on them (see above!).
We hope these tips are helpful! If your child’s anxiety ever seems to be keeping them from being successful at school, in extracurricular activities, or with peers, then we have a whole team of professionals who would be happy to help!