Many kids feel some disappointment when they know that summer fun is winding down and a new school year is just around the corner. However, sometimes that feeling can linger or overwhelm your child, and begin to cause real trouble in his school work and relationships.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do.
“The real key is to communicate with your child,” says clinical psychologist James Crist, author of What to Do When You’re Sad and Lonely and What to Do When You’re Scared and Worried. “As you help your child work through how she’s feeling and why, and what she can do about it, you’ll teach her how to help herself.”
Here are Crist’s tips for helping your child overcome debilitating emotions and enjoy a positive back to school start.
Know the signs. Your child may not be inclined or able to talk easily about what’s bothering him. Be on the lookout for the following issues as the school year begins:
- Sleep disruptions
- Increased irritability, such as more bickering with siblings or picking fights with other kids
- Withdrawing from family or friends
- Loss of interest in activities he enjoys
- Not applying himself in class or with homework
- Significant changes in appetite, either decreased or increased
- Frequent or lingering headaches and stomach aches
Help her label her feelings. Kids often have difficulty expressing their feelings in words. Ask your daughter specific questions, such as “When you think about school, how do you feel?” As she answers, suggest labels for what she expresses, such as sad, overwhelmed, frightened, or shy. “Reflect back to your child what she tells you,” Crist says. “This validates her feelings, and shows her that you understand her, even if she can’t state things clearly.”
Help him create solutions. Although he may be reluctant to do this, with your encouragement your child may come up with ideas of his own. Ask him specific questions such as, “What would make school more enjoyable for you?” You can also offer suggestions, such as inviting a new friend over, or getting involved in a new club at school, where he’ll meet people he can look forward to seeing everyday.
Help her see the positives. While she’s in a funk, your child is only thinking about the down sides. Help her see the positive things she’ll gain from school, such as making new friends, re-connecting with old friends, and participating in clubs or sports she enjoys. If she was disappointed with last year’s grades, remind her that a new year means a chance to show herself what she can really do.
Use role-playing. This can be especially helpful for younger kids who’ve had little practice with new situations. For example, if your child is starting a new school and she’s concerned about being lonely, let her play the role of a stranger while you pretend to be her. Think out loud to yourself, “Is there anything I’ve seen or heard about that girl that we have in common? Oh, she has a Discovery Channel lunch box. I love that channel.” Then walk over to your daughter and say, “Hi, I’m Sue. What shows do you like on the Discovery Channel?” Let your daughter answer, and see where it goes. Then switch roles and let her start the conversation.
Take an early tour of the school. A stress-free stroll through the campus allows your son to become familiar with the school before it becomes Grand Central Station. Express your own excitement to him, such as, “Wow, you’ll have a locker this year” and “Take a look at this amazing science lab.” If possible, you might also arrange to meet one of his teachers, the principal, or the school counselor.
Get her involved in the preparations. Be sure to let her have as much input as possible for back to school items, such as clothes, lunch box, and notebook designs. These personal items can be a source of comfort during that first week that’s filled with new experiences.
Encourage him to keep a journal. Writing about his feelings can work wonders on your child’s ability to deal with the blues. Expressing his thoughts and feelings on paper can help him understand and process them better. When he’s having a rough day, reading about his accomplishments and enjoyable moments reminds him of the positive experiences he’s having.
Be a great coach. Be sure to give her the appropriate pep talks. If she’s feeling overwhelmed, remind her that she’s worked through new and difficult experiences before. If she’s concerned about making friends, point out that her appealing traits, such as being funny or being a great musician, are qualities that other kids will appreciate.
The back to school season can be emotionally challenging for your child. Being aware and maintaining open communication provides him with the support and encouragement he needs to press on and enjoy the school year. Best of all, it enables him to discover the ability to succeed within himself. As Crist says, “By working with him in these ways, you empower your child to see that, just like in the past, he can overcome anything.”