Parents have a lot on their plate: housing costs, healthcare, caring for elderly parents, raising kids, just to name a few. As the new school year approaches, they face additional stressors — paying for back-to-school supplies, clothes and possibly tuition. Many parents may also be worried about their children starting a new school, changing school districts, facing a more rigorous academic year or dealing with difficult social situations.
Often the fear of the unknown — classmates, teachers, the school building — is the most stressful for family members, whether it’s the children hopping on the school bus or their parents who have to wave goodbye.
Fortunately, children are extremely capable of coping with change and parents can help them in the process by providing a setting that fosters resilience and encourages them to share and express their feelings about returning to school.
“Try teaching your child basic coping strategies to help reduce first-day-of-school jitters,” says Dr. Jenny Tarbox, psychologist at Bloom Psychology Services. “For example, taking slow, deep breaths, visualizing their favorite place, or using positive self-talk like ‘I can do this!’ or ‘It’s going to be a great day!’”
Before school starts, Indiana psychologists offer suggestions to help parents and kids prepare:
Practice the first day of school routine: Getting into a sleep routine before the first week of school will aide in easing the shock of waking up early. Organizing things at home — backpack, binder, lunchbox or cafeteria money — will help make the first morning go smoothly. Having healthy, yet kid-friendly lunches will help keep them energized throughout the day. Also, walking through the building and visiting your child’s locker and classroom will help ease anxiety of the unknown.
Talk to your child: Asking children about their fears or worries about going back to school will help them share their burden. Inquire as to what they liked about their previous school or grade and see how those positives can be incorporated into their new experience.
Empathize with your children: Change can be difficult, but also exciting. Let your children know that you are aware of what they’re going through and that you will be there to help them in the process. Nerves are normal, but highlight that not everything that is different is necessarily bad. It is important to encourage children to face their fears instead of falling in to the trap of encouraging avoidance.
Get involved and ask for help: Knowledge of the school and the community will better equip parents to understand their child’s surroundings and the transition he or she is undergoing. Meeting members of the community and school will foster support for both parent and child. If parents feel the stress of the school year is too much to handle, seeking expert advice from a licensed psychologist, can help them better manage and cope.
Some Indiana children have already started the school year. Dr. Sarah Honaker, psychologist at Indiana University Health, offers suggestions for a successful school year. “A new school year represents an opportunity to children to get a fresh start and perhaps change some things that did not work well last year. Sit down with your child to discuss successes from last year and brainstorm ways to make the coming year even better. Keep in mind though that it may not be enough for your child to ‘try harder’ or want to do well. Make sure he or she has the skills and support needed to succeed academically and socially.”
To learn more visit the American Psychological Association at www.apa.org/helpcenter and follow @APAHelpCenter. To find out more about the Indiana Psychological Association, visit www.indianapsychology.org