Heading back to school is often filled with anxiety for both parents and kids. Kids who are starting a new school, either because they are moving from middle school to high school, or are moving to a new neighborhood, have the biggest adjustment, but even those who are just moving to a new grade have adjustments to make. New teachers, new friends, new academic challenges are only the beginning.
Parents can help make the back-to-school transition smoother by helping their child set goals, keeping an eye out for signs of stress and being involved in their child’s school. Here are a few tips.
Get to Know the Teacher
No one is more important to your child’s success in school than his teacher.
No one is more important to your child’s success in school than his teacher. If your child is in elementary school, make a point to introduce yourself early in the school year. If your child is in middle or high school, where there he will have multiple teachers, attend a back-to-school night.
If your child has a learning disability or other special need, don’t hesitate to contact your child’s teacher(s) and voice your concerns; for multiple teachers, an email is helpful. Keep it short, make your concerns clear and ask for feedback. Finally, if your child is on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan, be sure that his plan is being implemented appropriately.
Talk About Goals
For younger kids, it can be something as simple as “I want to learn to read this year.” For older kids, it could include helping your child choose appropriate after-school and extracurricular activities.
Encourage Social Relationships
If your child is young, arrange play dates with new or old friends. Plan activities with classmates on the weekends to help your child form bonds. If you’re not sure who would be appropriate for a play date, ask your child’s teacher for a suggestion based on your child’s temperament. Social relationships don’t just apply to your child; it’s also a good idea for you to form relationships with other parents, as it’s a great way to get to know your child’s peers.
This can start with making sure your child gets enough sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is a necessary component to having a happy, well-adjusted kid. Make sure your child isn’t overcommitted so that he has time to sleep. Also, don’t overlook the importance of eating a good breakfast, and providing healthy snacks and lunch.
If your child has a tendency to dwell on the negative aspects of a new school-year transition, actively help her see the positive.
If possible, volunteer at your child’s school. This can be hard for working parents, but you could volunteer to support your child’s teacher after work hours — for example, helping to coordinate the back-to-school night, or plan a one-time event like the class Halloween party. Research indicates that children whose parents are more involved tend to be more successful.
Focus on the Positive
If your child has a tendency to dwell on the negative aspects of a new school-year transition, actively help her see the positive. Point out the benefits of the school, the teacher or the classroom. Keep your emotions in check. It’s normal for you to feel anxious too, but you don’t want those feelings to rub off on your child. Stay calm, and be confident. If you are finding that there isn’t much to be positive about, take action while it’s still early in the school year.
Empathize with Stress
Acknowledge that this is a stressful time. Adjusting to new situations and learning to cope is an ever-changing part of life. Coping with the changes of a new school year is a great opportunity for your child to learn skills he will need for later in life, for changing jobs, moving to a new city or starting a new career. Empathizing that change is hard makes it easier to move beyond the stress — and, naming your fears makes it possible to conquer them.
Note of Signs of Stress
Figure out a time and place to do homework, such as before dinner in the dining room, and stick to it.
Not every child copes well with the transition to a new school year. While it’s normal to feel anxious, it’s not normal if the anxiety continues beyond the first few weeks. If your child is having trouble sleeping (sleeping too much or too little), has a change in her eating habits (overeating or not interested in eating), seems sad much of the time, is constantly anxious and has lost pleasure in things she used to enjoy, seek help. Start by talking to your child’s teacher and/or school psychologist or guidance counselor. If problems persist, seek an additional evaluation or treatment from a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Stick to a Routine
Kids do better when they know what to expect. If you have a routine that worked last year, continue with it. If something needs to change, such as after-school care or a carpool, give your child as much advance warning as possible, and routinize the change as soon as you can.
In addition to establishing a regular routine, establish a homework routine. Homework is a frequent complaint from parents and kids. Figure out a time and place to do homework, such as before dinner and in the dining room, and stick to it.
This article first appeared on the MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds website.