By Brett VanTol and William Rowell
“It can’t be that time again,” we say to each other. But the stores are full of notebooks, backpacks and crayons. Schools are having orientations. So once again, it’s back to school.
Our children are often especially nervous or stressed during important transition events. Going into pre-school or kindergarten and going from elementary school to middle school are two of these important transitions. The beginning of a new school year is a stressful time for parents, as well. We can often overlook our children’s feelings of nervousness, anxiety and stress.
Pre-school and Kindergarten – Young children are not always able to say what they are feeling. Watch your child for signs of fear, anxiety and stress. Are they extra clingy? Do they need more hugs? Have they started to wet the bed or suck their thumb? They may be feeling more pressure from all the changes.
Children are very capable of coping with change, but it is both scary and exciting at the same time. This can be confusing. Use your family like a blanket and “wrap” them up in some close family time. Play a favorite game or read a favorite book. Tell them a story about when you went to school. Letting your child know that you sometimes feel both scared and excited helps your child know that it’s ok to feel that way. This will help them learn how to stay involved in challenging tasks, rather than learn to avoid them.
Elementary School to Middle School – Our “tween-aged” children are entering puberty, becoming more concerned about how they look and what their friends think, and their brains are more able to think critically. At this time in their lives, we “throw” them into middle school where they have several teachers and bigger schools with more students. In elementary school, the focus was on learning how to do something – how to read or how to divide. Now, in middle school, there is the additional stress of getting good grades.
Middle school students can become “Avoiders” rather than “Doers.” They can fall into the trap of thinking, “I’m only ‘C’ smart” or “I’m not attractive.” When this happens they avoid homework that they think is more challenging, and they avoid social situations that they think are beyond them. They start to become “avoiders.”
To keep your middle school students motivated for “doing,” brainstorm with your child; “How can I help others?” When we help others, we feel good about ourselves.
Encourage your child to develop her own routine for getting ready for school and coming home after school. Ask her, “I wonder what is the best way for you to get ready for school?” Then listen carefully to her answer.
Help your child learn to discover and recognize her “inner strength” when she faces a tough situation. Ask her, “What did you learn about yourself when your friend did not sit with you at lunch?”
Help your child see the humor in life and give him the strength to laugh at himself by seeing the “big” picture. Giving your middle school student the skill of bouncing back, helps him to be a “doer” and not an “avoider.”
Clinicians Brett VanTol, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, and William Rowell, Ph.D., ABPP, licensed psychologist, see clients at the Pine Rest North Shore and Southwest Clinics and teach a parenting class together. Two new classes start in mid-September, for more details, visit www.pinerest.org/events.