As the lazy, hazy days of summer wind down, a range of emotions are stirring up for school-age children. “Some kids are happy to skid back into classroom-mode with sand still clinging to their toes and sunscreen on their noses,” says Jennifer DuBose, TriCity Family Services therapist, “but others need a bit more time to pivot and transition.”
When it comes to new situations, we’re all prone to anxiety, adults included. It’s important to remember that kids are no different. While often times those butterflies are good, sometimes they can be disabling, causing headaches, stomachaches, diminished appetites, etc.
This time of year, if your child or teen is anxious, there are several strategies DuBose suggests to ensure a smoother transition:
For starters, we must be open to accepting our children being different from each other. Recognize that no two kids are alike, just as no two adults are alike. How one child in your family reacts to a new school year can vary with another. Accept those differences.
Strike Up Light Conversation
Striking up light conversation can occur at a completely natural moment, such as while watching a favorite television program. Chatting during one of those back-to-school commercials allows parents the chance to open with, “Do you need a new lunchbox this year?” or “How are you feeling about going back to school?” It seems basic but provides a nice segue to the looming topic.
Joining with your kids in acknowledging reality is a completely different technique. “Is it already time for school?” You don’t need to pretend that returning to school is fun but you can certainly make it normal to help ease those jitters. It’s really no different than flying through turbulence. If the pilot indicates that, yes, in fact, your airplane is about to encounter a very rough patch of air, isn’t it better than covering it up by not saying anything at all? Acknowledging reality is almost always a helpful way to normalize the unknown.
Uncover the Truth
You want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If there’s something so crippling about a situation, perhaps it’s due to something more serious. Try to find out the source of anxiety by uncovering the truth. Did your family recently move into a new house or neighborhood? Does the upcoming school year trail a recent change in the family structure? Was your child bullied the previous school year? Is there a fear of riding the school bus? Is there unfinished awkwardness with a teacher or fellow classmate? What’s underneath it all? Coming right out and asking what your child is thinking about and why those feelings exist is a more direct approach that may lend opportunities for extended conversations.
Starting a new school year is overwhelming no matter who is living in the moment. But whatever approach you choose, always remember that parents can be their child’s first and best advocates. “Remind those who may be more reluctant to return that there is life after the school bell rings,” suggests DuBose. “Plan a special meal for that first day back or a special outing you know your child will look forward to at day’s end. Anticipating tried and true good-vibe moments can be an anchor of sorts and make returning to, or adjusting to a new, school seem less daunting.”