By Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
School bells are ringing and kids are everywhere. As you drive slowly through school zones, you can see and feel the excitement in the air. Kids are walking to school, getting out of buses, and being dropped off on the curb. Some of them look excited and are laughing, while others look confused, withdrawn and afraid. Parents have a powerful influence over their child no matter how old their child is in regards to their school-year success. Easing back-to-school jitters is an important step that parents should prepare for and encourage their child to prepare for as well.
School jitters don’t begin the first day of school. Most likely, they were going on during the last third of the summer. Sometimes parents are so busy with work and vacations that many forget to look for the signs. Did your child act more moody, restless, fatigued or erratic? Many kids have these feelings and adjust fine after school has started, but 15% do not. These 15% may have difficulty adjusting to the school year, and may require parental interventions to help them get on track.
How can you, as a parent, help your child adjust, so they feel confident and capable to handle the requirements for their grade level?
1. Begin by talking to your child and listening. Ask them how they feel about the new school year and if they are nervous about any particular aspect. If they tell you their fears, DO NOT try to talk them out of it. Listen and validate how they feel by telling them you can understand how their fears would be worrisome. Then help them write down alternatives they can act on if their fear comes true. For example: if your child is afraid they won’t have anyone to sit by during lunch, then write down three actions they could take. In this particular example, they could choose to sit with someone or organize a pizza party at their house to meet more kids prior to school beginning. This would help them break the ice in the comfort of their own home. Another option may be to have one friend they can call the night before school begins and make plans with that person to eat with them during lunch.
2. Do not ignore signs of distress. If sadness, anxiety, crying or anorexia goes on longer than two weeks, it isn’t a stage…it is a problem. Most problems that bring kids to counseling were not serious when they first began. They were denied until they became serious.
3. Plan with your child what supplies they need prior to school. Do they need a desk, computer or quiet area for schoolwork? If your child is going away to school, they will be more secure if the structure of their room is complete. Kids away from home do better when they like their room and feel secure there. The same is true for your child at home. Everyone does better when they have their own space to work.
4. Encourage your child to set healthy expectations. It takes time to get into the groove of a new school year. This is true whether you are in college or grade school. After a short time of adjustment, you can raise your expectations as you have more experience to draw from in regards to what is expected.
5. If your child is going away to school, stay connected to them, but not intrusive. Let them know you are there and they have a secure home base. Be available, but give them space to work out their problems without intervening unless necessary.
If you notice your child is struggling and not able to cope, begin to talk to your child about visiting a counselor. Many times children do want help, but are afraid to ask. If parents talk to their children and reassure them that a counselor will be helpful, most children can talk to a counselor in regards to what they are feeling and how to better handle their concerns.
Here’s to a happy, healthy new school year.
– Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at maryjorapini.com.