Going Back to School!
The beginning of the school year is fast approaching, and with it the annual swirl of activity, planning, and preparation. The return to school elicits a myriad of emotions and thoughts in both children and parents, from excitement and optimism to anxiety and even trepidation for the challenges of the upcoming school year. It is a time to be acutely aware of these feelings and consider taking steps to shift the scales towards the positive!
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to helping children prepare for the upcoming year and navigate the challenges that may arise. Each child has their own strengths and areas for improvement, and will fittingly have different goals and needs to achieve them. For some, the focus will be on maximizing academic achievement, for others it will be a focus on social functioning. Some children will be coming back after a challenging year due to academic struggles, bullying, significant family changes or losses, and/or specific mental health issues. Accordingly, it can be helpful to take stock of their past experiences in approaching this year.
Here at MSC, we are always thinking of how to help parents and children walk confidently together, so we have put together a small guide of considerations, tips, and resources to help on the path to a successful, productive, and rewarding year!
- BE CURIOUS and POSITIVE. Speak to your child, ask what they are looking forward to this year. Show interest and foster their excitement!
- ACKNOWLEDGE, VALIDATE, and EMPATHIZE. If your child does have concerns or worries, be calm and supportive. Dismissing statements (“that won’t happen”, “don’t be silly”, “you don’t need to worry about that”) can lead to a child to feel unheard and confused about their feelings. By acknowledging that this can be a stressful time and that it is normal to have worries and concerns, you are validating their feelings while keeping the conversation open to ways to mitigate and navigate their anxiety.
- BUILD A PLAN to address their worries and concerns. A significant contributor to anxiety is uncertainty about the future. By discussing and coming up with a plan beforehand, many children will be comforted, reassured, and experience a reduction in anxiety.
- AVOID AVOIDANCE. While it is tempting to allow children to avoid triggers/anxiety-producing situations in an attempt to protect them from these challenging experiences, avoidance only serves to reinforce anxiety. Instead, reframe the trigger/situation as an opportunity for growth and perseverance. More often than not, children will find they overestimated the risk and underestimated their ability to handle the situation!
- EMBRACE IMPERFECTION. Oftentimes, the most stressful part of school for children is not living up to the expectations of their parents. One way to minimize this is to set achievable and general goals. Focus on their happiness and well-being as opposed to a specific GPA. Encourage them to pursue their interests, and focus on the fulfillment of performing their best, especially in those classes they are less excited about.
- Reach out ahead of time to school administration and/or teachers (if known beforehand) with any specific concerns regarding academic accommodations, mental health or any other concerns, to assure a plan is implemented at the start of school year.
- If your child needs to or is already seeing a mental health professional, make sure to schedule visits prior to the start of school. The first 1-2 months of the school year are the busiest time for therapist and psychiatrist offices, so getting in before the rush will help solidify the treatment plan and make sure your child has the support system in place.
- NAMI: https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Kids-Teens-and-Young-Adults/Back-to-School-Resources
- Treating Test Anxiety: https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-guide/treating-test-anxiety/anxiety/none
- Time Management Tips: https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/time-management-tips
Dr. Feldman, Child, Adult & Adolescent Psychiatrist