As summer winds down and vacations start to end, the stores are filled with back to school supplies, last-minute school physicals are booked, and your child is already picking out their first day of school outfit. Going back to school is exciting for some kids, but others may feel some sense of anxiety of returning to school, or even starting a new grade or at a new school.
Change is never easy. As adults, change is hard, what makes us think our children can adapt any easier to a new school year. The truth is, they can. It is just that some kids may need more support than others. The transition from elementary to middle school and high school is monumental and should be treated as such when discussing the changes with our children.
Our kids should be applauded for their courage to walk into a new school and to test the waters, as they continue to mature and grow into the young adults we hope they soon become. We taught our kids to be autonomous and independent in their thinking, so we hope our lessons over the years have paid off.
Kids need validation. One of the best ways to start off any conversation is to check in with your children. “How do you feel about going back to school? I know it can be hard to get used to a new teacher and a new routine, but I will support you, and I know you can do it!”
Kids want to be heard and validated. There is no need to dismiss their fears or make light of them. Listen to them and then ask if they are open to developing a plan to help decrease their anxiety and fears. Make sure to focus on the positive that they are feeling their feelings and talking about them. When you name a feeling, now you can feel it, and let it pass. Teach your children that they may feel a certain way, but they can feel scared and still show up confident at school. We do this all the time. They can too, they just need your support and simple direction.
Typically, anxiety fades for most kids as the school year progress and they settle into their new routine. But that is not always the case. One of the best ways to help prepare your child for a successful school year is to help them get off to a good start.
Take your own inventory
First. Check-in with yourself. Our kids are so smart, that they can tell if we are nervous, fearful, or stressed. As adults, we are in charge of managing our own emotions in a healthy way, and we owe it to our children to manage our stress without projecting it out on them. Anxiety can be contagious, and the more calm and confident we are, the more our kid’s nervous energy may dissipate and rest in your confidence that the school year is going to be great.
Prepare and Plan
Working with your child as a team to help them develop a plan for handling any specific things they worry about will help ease their anxiety. For younger children, if your child is nervous, make it a routine to meet the teacher first if possible, arrange a staff member or one of your child’s friends to greet them on the first day. Support your children to reach out to their peers and friends to help support each other.
If your child is older, such as middle school or high school, sitting with your child and mapping out their new schedule and checking the online school portal for any messages, assignments, or notes is important to help your pre-teen or teen feel prepared and confident for their first day. Taking a trip to find classrooms, organize lockers, or get to know the school is helpful for many as well.
Any opportunity for exposure, repetition, and mastery is going to help your child “cope ahead” to adjusting to a new school year. Most importantly, have fun! Laugh and enjoy this new adventure, but also be willing and ready to be a supportive ear and advocate for your child as the year progresses. It is important we help set our children up for success, not only academically, but emotionally.