Julie A. Ross, our guest writer and the Executive Director of Parenting Horizons, is a mom and the author of three parenting books. She runs numerous parenting workshops and events throughout the metropolitan area.
For many children, going back to school evokes a mixture of feelings: anticipation, excitement and apprehension, among others. As school approaches, we need to help our children make the transition with as little stress and anxiety as possible.
Clearly, some of the rituals that we engage in prior to school beginning are extremely helpful. Taking our child to shop for new school clothes and supplies, for example, will enable her to mentally make the leap from the lazy days of summer to the more structured days of fall. Equally important, however, is our attitude about school, our communication about the upcoming transition, our perceptiveness with regard to her feelings, and our ability to give her a measure of control.
Our attitude is crucial.
For our children to succeed in school we must have a positive attitude. If your school experience was poor, for example, there's no reason to think that your child’s will be the same. Set him up for success by conveying that school can be pleasurable, and express confidence that he can meet any challenges that might arise. When children feel their parents are confident about them, they're more likely to have confidence in themselves. Likewise, don't joke about the rigors of education. For example, if you say to your child in a teasing tone of voice: "Soon school will be here and it'll be time to buckle down. No more lazing around for you!" you’ll send the strong message that school is something to be anxious about. Children take things at face value. This is no joke to a child. As adults, we have to be good role models for our children. If this means suppressing your real feelings about school in order to encourage your children to do well, then that is part of your parental responsibilities.
Communication is the key.
In order for potentially stressful transitions to be accomplished successfully, it is important to open the lines of communication so that our children feel free to talk about their concerns. Unfortunately, many of us accidentally block communication despite good intentions. We want our children to feel comfortable with the idea of going to school, so we offer advice, make suggestions, distract them with the "good" things about school, and so on...all with the intent of comforting them. In reality, however, these "techniques" only serve to communicate that we don't understand how our children feel, and that they should keep their feelings to themselves instead of talking about them.
Listen to your child with your eyes as well as your ears. Anxiety is more likely to show on a child's face and in his body language than in the words he uses. Watch your children, (is she more irritable, does he cry more easily, is she withdrawn, does he "blow up" at the least little thing) and validate feelings you see: "You seem a little irritable, would you like to talk about it" can often be the line that opens the floodgates of communication. As your child begins to talk, restate what you hear and reflect his emotions. You can alleviate much of your child's anxiety by giving him the freedom to talk about it.
Give a measure of control.
Going back to school is like going back to work after a long and enjoyable vacation. Suddenly you no longer designate what time to get up, what to wear, what your schedule will be during the day, how you will spend your time. For a child this lack of control can be very anxiety provoking. Allow your child to make some decisions about his time and how to use it. Do this by structuring choices for your child: He may have to be at school
by 8:40, but maybe he can choose whether to get up at 7:15 or 7:30. Maybe she needs a 1/2 hour after school to do homework, but perhaps she can choose whether to do it before or after dinner. By offering these choices to our children, we give them enough power so that they feel in control.
With these four principles in mind, your child will not only have a less anxious beginning, but a more successful school year as well. For more back to school information check out our Mommy Poppins Back to School Guide.
Julie is available for private consultation (phone or in person) and can be reached at: Parenting Horizons 212-765-2377