Written by Julie Erickson, LP PhD
The start of a new school year for kids is finally here. We want all children to feel happy, healthy and prepared for the transition to a new school year. Children and teens may experience a range of emotions leading up to the start of a new school year, particularly if they are transitioning to a new school for middle school or high school. Here are some suggestions for parents and caregivers to ease the back to school transition.
Set aside time to check in with children and teens about their emotional readiness.
The start of a new year can be stressful, especially with the busyness of preparing backpacks, school clothes and lunches. Plan ahead and promote good communication about the adjustment to a new school year. Ask children and teens open-ended questions about how they are feeling about the upcoming year. Allow children to express and share their feelings whether they are excited, scared, happy, nervous, irritable or sad. Avoid asking leading questions such as “are you worried?” and don’t minimize their responses. Once your child responds, validate the range of emotions they may be feeling and encourage them to look forward to positive aspects of school.
Promote resilience and capacity for managing new situations.
Provide reassurance that focuses on the qualities about each child that will help them through challenging moments and tough times. For example, instead of “don’t worry” or “it will be fine” talk to children and teens about their individual characteristics such as being assertive, patient, friendly or a great problem-solver. Be sure to remind them about other times when they have been able to adjust to new situations.
Offer to help.
Children and teens feel prepared and confident for school by empowering them to identify the help they would like from parents and caregivers. Particularly for older tweens and teens, ask how you can be helpful and support them in getting ready for the new year. Some teens may not need or want any help, and others may want specific support such as making a plan for morning routines, seeking advice about friends or managing the stress of increased homework.
Support children and teens in managing their nerves and stress.
Parents can help kids manage their nerves and stress by focusing on solutions to potential problems. Having a plan about where to sit on the bus, who to sit with at lunch and who to talk to if they are upset can help kids plan ahead. In addition, encouraging use of a planner to aid in managing academic stress and help with coping during the challenges of the new year.
Feeling nervous is a common emotion for children and teens when facing change in their life. If there is concern that your child may be struggling with anxiety, often manifested as excessive worrying, crying, school avoidance, headache, stomachache, or other changes in mood or behavior, discuss these concerns with your school counselor, social worker or nurse. There may be resources available at your school to assist with school anxiety. You may also consult your primary care provider or mental health professional for guidance about assessment and treatment options.
Dr. Julie Erickson, LP PhD, is a clinical psychologist specializing in adolescent health and behavior at Children’s Minnesota.