It’s almost that time again…the transition to a new school year. This can be a time of joy and excitement for some and it can also be a time of dread, panic and worry for many parents and students alike. Tweens are especially vulnerable given this stage of development. They are typically moving up to middle school/junior high and facing new social and academic challenges.
If you’re hoping to help ease your tween back into the idea of going to school and also help him or her find more enjoyment out of the entire experience, than you will find that there are specific things parents can do. Here are some great ways to beat those “back to school blues”!
- Back to the basics: Resting/sleeping well, eating healthy and exercise are basics that sometimes get a little “off” during the summer months. It is vital for tweens to start rolling back their bedtimes to a schedule that better mimics what they will be doing during the school year. Lack of sleep and disrupted sleep can be one of the leading causes of inadequate coping/stress management, poor frustration tolerance and irritability. This may mean setting firmer limits with electronics and “screens” by having your tween give these up as bedtime approaches. Get your tween eating more whole foods, fruits and vegetables and complete meals. This will nourish your tween so they have the physical energy and mental stamina to get through their school day. Lastly, get your tween moving! Go for walks, hikes, swim and play outdoor games. Join your tween in these activities and you will feel better too!
- Get your tweens schedule and visit the school: The transition to middle school/junior high can be scary! You can help to ease this anxiety by going over your tween’s schedule with him/her and visiting the school. Most schools have orientation days and/or times that parents and students can stop in and look around. Take your tween’s schedule and walk through an average day. Help them find their locker and try it out! Keep it positive and fun. You may even be able to meet some of the staff and/or bump into other peers and families. Ask about field trips, sports and musical/art opportunities. Is there a school mascot? Is there a school dance? What’s the school menu?
- Create fun school supplies: Back to school shopping can be an exciting part of your tween’s transition when you allow him/her to choose fun and creative school supplies. Let them get the “cool” pencil case, choose their own folders/calendars and pick out that “trendy” book bag/backpack. Yes, it may not be the best option for practicality, but fitting in is a huge part of a tween’s new life at middle school and you will want to be supportive of this.
- Let them choose their new clothes: Allow your tween to do some shopping with you to pick out their new threads! If your school does not have uniforms you will want your tween to be part of this process. Most tweens already know what’s “in” and what’s “cool”. Give them an allowance or spending limit and guidelines on what’s appropriate. Allow them some freedom to express themselves even if you dislike what they choose. You will be the “coolest” parent of the neighborhood!
- Make a comfortable and organized study corner with your tween: One of the best ways for a tween to be successful and productive is to create a clean, organized and quiet study space. You can design a really nice space with inexpensive office supplies, files, organizers, etc. Use family photos and silly pictures of pets and friends. Your tween may even want to create a theme for their space. Create the space with them to make it as personal as possible, and reserve it for school related things only!
- Model a positive attitude: Your tween is looking to you for signs on how to think about and approach this new school year. Your positive and confident attitude will go a long way! Always talk positively about school. Be excited. Help your tween set positive and realistic goals for the year. Be ready to reframe and redirect your tweens anxious and/or negative thoughts and statements. Always ask them what they are looking forward to and how you can support them in having a great school year.
- Create organizational tools together: When it comes to homework, projects, extracurricular activities and sports your tween will need your help organizing his/her time. White boards with colorful markers and magnets make great calendars and cork boards with fancy push pins will help you to post important notices and invitations. Color coding your tweens academic subjects is also a fun activity and keeps everything super organized and simple to grab on busy mornings. It helps to have a place for your tween to leave items for parents to sign or review. An in/out box can be a great way to make this work smoothly.
- Have time together to talk about drama or frustrations: One of the things that might be causing your tween’s “back to school blues” is the inevitable social pressure and general desire to be liked and to “fit in”. Don’t ignore these worries or assume your tween doesn’t have them. Talk to your tween and use open-ended questions. Listen and observe. Support and stay positive. Keep this up throughout the year and you will be more in touch with the emotional health of your tween. If you have deeper concerns connect with the school’s social worker or counselor. It may also be helpful to seek outside support and assistance at your local counseling center/office when your tween has you worried.
- Schedule and plan an “end of summer” tradition: A fun and engaging way to signify the end of summer and the beginning of a new chapter is to create a new ritual with your tween/family. Plan a “last supper”, last BBQ picnic and/or last swim at the town beach. Create a photo album or video of your summer fun. Say goodbye together while honoring that change is not only inevitable but exciting and filled with promise. This is a great time to reflect on the summer, laugh and show your support for your tween’s experience. This can also be a great time to set new goals, create positive energy for the new school year and reassure your tween that you are present and available to them.
Back to school anxiety is a normal part of growing up. The more calm and confidence you can model the more your tween will feel he/she can manage this experience. Be supportive yet firm. Your tween wants your reassurance but is also seeking security, clear expectations and consistency from you at all times. Communicate openly and honestly. Allow your tween to feel safe and comfortable with whatever they might want to share with you. Know your tween’s friends and watch their texting/social media (if you allow this) while respecting their growing needs for privacy (a slippery slope at times!). Above all, if you are concerned that your tween’s anxiety and/or mood is not typical for him/her seek some professional guidance. Counseling can be a vital part of success for some tweens that need this level of support. Best of luck!