Here it comes! School is reopening in a week or two. Are you and your children ready? Transitions are hard for most people but particularly for young people. It’s normal for children and teens to be a bit anxious about starting a new school year. It’s usual for kids to be full of questions. It’s also normal for parents to be anxious about their children’s anxiety. You may have anxieties based on your childhood experiences in school or worries about what’s ahead for your child. You can do much to soothe everyone’s anxieties with some thoughtful preparation.
Master your own anxieties:
Separate your anxieties from your children’s. If your experiences in school weren’t happy and satisfying, you may be very anxious that the same thing will happen to your children. For your own sake, and your child’s, it’s important to acknowledge your worries and to do what you can to calm them. Your kids have enough to worry about without worrying about your worrying. Talk to your partner, your best friends or your therapist about your anxieties, not your children. Work it through so you can be your most encouraging self when supporting your children.
Tell positive stories: Even if school was generally difficult for you, it is highly unlikely that all 12 years of school were a challenge every day in every way. Think about moments when you felt good about a teacher, about overcoming a challenge, about mastering a lesson, or when something fun and funny happened. Talking about those events will make you feel better and will help create a positive tone for your kids’ education.
If you were one of the fortunate people who loved (or at least liked) school and did reasonably or very well there, sharing the good times with your kids can be encouraging to all of you.
Familiarize yourself with staff and rules: If you are anxious about what the new teachers will be like, make an appointment to meet them and to find out how to communicate with them before school starts. Should there be problems, you’ll feel more comfortable talking to a teacher you’ve already at least met.
Knowing the school rules will prevent misunderstandings and unnecessary anxiety. If the school has a handbook, read it. If there isn’t a published set of guidelines, talk to the school guidance counselors about the standards for behavior and consequences for violating those standards. Be clear about policies about tardiness and absences. Learn what kind of help the guidance department offers.
Make sure supports are in place: You will feel more relaxed if you are confident your child’s needs will be addressed. If your child has a learning disability and a service plan, make sure the paperwork is in order and that the receiving teacher(s) are aware of it. If your child doesn’t have a documented learning disability but does struggle in school, alert the teachers and talk about what they suggest you can do to be a support. If your child has been going through a difficult transition at home (a divorce or remarriage of parents, a move, a new baby, illness, etc.) do notify the guidance counselors so they can be alert to whether your child needs a little more support.
Stay up to date: Staying in touch can prevent little problems from morphing into big anxiety-provoking dramas. Many schools now have websites where teachers post assignments and send and receive messages. Check in regularly. If you don’t have a home computer, use the computers at your local library at least once a week. If that’s too difficult, let the teacher know you will be communicating by note.
Calm your child’s anxieties:
Never minimize a child’s fears. Listen. Listen without judgment and with compassion. Your child’s worries may seem not worth the angst or even silly but, to the child, they are very, very real. Work with your child to figure out ways to address the concerns.
Visit the school: If your children are new to the schools they will be attending, arrange for a visit. Children (and, yes, teens) are understandably anxious if they don’t know where to go or what to expect once they walk through those doors.
Meet the teacher: If your child is anxious about what the teacher will be like, it’s often helpful to arrange a short meet and greet. Teachers are busy setting up for the year but most are more than happy to say hello to a child, to show them around the classroom for a few minutes and to talk briefly about what the child will be learning. In the case of teens, it is sometimes possible to not only meet some of the staff but also to pick up copies of textbooks. You and your teen can look over the texts as a way to get oriented.
Encourage communication: Sometimes kids don’t tell their parents about problems because they don’t want to worry them or they have the mistaken idea that they have to solve their problems by themselves. They then have two problems: The original problem and the burden of trying to handle it on their own when they don’t have enough information or skills. Do your best to encourage open communication. Be clear that you are both willing and available to help when help is needed. The two of you may be able to solve academic and social problems as they come up. Do also explore if the school offers more academic and social supports through tutoring or counseling sessions.
Encourage a balanced life style: Kids who are get 8 – 9 hours of sleep, who eat breakfast, who get some regular exercise and who have activities outside of school are generally kids who are mentally healthy and physically strong. Work with your children to develop a family life style that will minimize anxiety and maximize success for everyone.