Tips for Helping Your Child Back to School and other Life Transitions
Going back to school can sometimes be a tough transition for kids, especially if they are moving to a new school. Oftentimes they are experiencing anxiety that they are not even consciously aware of. You may find your child is a bit withdrawn or a bit more temperamental than usual during this time. Following are some suggestions to help you and your child through this time of transition:
- Start the Dialogue. Try saying something like, ‘I know school will be starting soon. How are you feeling about it? I know I used to get very anxious before school started.’ Let them know that their anxieties are normal. Let them know that you understand it. Even have them tell you the worst case scenario they are playing out in their mind. Once school starts, check in again. Ask whether it was as bad as they thought. Sometimes when kids have been able to share their worst fears, when the actual event happens they can see that it wasn’t so bad.
- Let Your Child Vent. Sometimes it’s hard to just sit and listen, especially when your child is venting in a way that seems irrational. It’s okay. They need the room to express themselves. If you’re thrown off guard by something your child says, tell her you’ll get back to her. Then take the time to talk with a spouse or friend to gain perspective, but remember to always return to your child to discuss the topic.
- Ask Questions. Sometimes how your child appears on the outside does not accurately reflect what they are feeling on the inside. Be sure to check in with your kids with questions that require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Ask how specific school classes are going or how things are going with specific friends.
- Eliminate Some of the Surprise. Attend school registrations with your child, especially when they are transitioning to a new school. Talk to them about what the day may be like. Help them figure out locker combinations, where the bathrooms and where their classrooms are. Any assistance you can give to help relieve their stress is beneficial to both you and your student.
- Help Them Get Organized. Help your children organize their supplies and folders. Sometimes when students reach middle school, we think they can take care of all these tasks on their own, but some students (especially boys) are still struggling with learning to keep track of their things. It’s best not to do this for them, but offer assistance in helping them learn to be organized.
- Attend Parent Nights and Orientations. Most schools hold some sort of parent night at the beginning of each school year. This is a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with your student’s school environment and schedule and to meet your student’s teacher(s). Parents of high school and college kids should take advantage of parent orientations, as well as any brochures, information sheets or websites that will help to assist students with these transitions. An added benefit is that you are sending a powerful message to your children that you are engaged and involved in their education.
- Establish Boundaries. Make sure your student is clear on the boundaries and expectations before school starts. What is your family policy regarding after school time, homework, bed time? All of these things should be established well in advance of the first day of school. Know where they are, who they are with and what they are doing before, during and after school. If your child is headed to college, set specific boundaries regarding money, grades and keeping in touch.
- Make Time to Connect. Be supportive of your child’s interests, especially during transition times. If they are into a certain type of music or sport, get interested. Show that you care about their life. Spend a little more time together, do activities they like to do. Use dinner time as a way to connect as a family and catch up on what is going on in your child’s life, including what is not going well. Stressed kids may feel isolated, which can lead to experimentation with drugs and alcohol. Let them know you love them too much to see them risk getting hurt by experimenting or using.
- Give Them Independence. It is important to give children some autonomy so they don’t feel as if parents are suffocating them. Youth who feel their parents are controlling everything often want to get as far away from them as possible. Allowing youth to gain independence helps to build self esteem and a sense of having power over their own lives.
- Be Aware of Red Flags. Be aware of any unusual behavior. Ask yourself: Are they isolating themselves? Are they locking themselves in their room and not letting you in? Has appearance changed? Are they looking a little bit more rundown? Do they seem a little bit more erratic in their mood? To see a list of warning signs of drug and alcohol use, go to Time to Act.
And most importantly, you can help your child/ren through transition times simply by letting them know that you are always there for them. Visit the Partnership at Drugfree.org for more helpful parenting information.