I have taken much of the summer off. I have enjoyed spending time with my kids and getting my own mental break. But now it's time to switch gears, the email are coming in from clients, viewers and parents asking about back to school readiness. I have a 3 part series I have been doing on the morning news about this topic, I have done national news on it and this week alone I have three more news segments on preparing your kids to go back to school. So, I know this is a hot topic. So, whether your kid is starting preschool or going to college, these tips can be adapted to your child's age and situation. New school, new teacher, new friends, and greater demands can lead kids to feeling anxiety before the first day even arrives.
What can I do to prepare my child for going back to school?
Transitions are hard. Change is tough. And back to school can be a time of great angst for both kids and parents. Preparing for these changes is key to helping ease anxiety. Here are some tips that I have been sharing with each age group of kiddos as the calls and emails come in.
Preschool - these parents are usually worried about the unknown. their kids on the other hand are usually filled with both excitement and separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is defined as when someone is afraid of being separated from a particular person, persons, or even a pet. While many people associate separation anxiety with children, adults can experience the condition as well. Generally speaking this can last between 2-3 weeks and should subside with comfort and routine. Your child will be looking to you for signs that it is okay to be apart so things like smiling, speaking positively, speaking casually with teachers and parents and saying goodbye and walking away are helpful (but hard sometimes)! Think about using a transitional object such as a blanket, teddy bear, even a photo to help ease your child's distress. Also, try to coordinate play dates with other children in class, this can be very helpful.
Kindergarten - much of what I said above applies here too except that the days are typically longer. Preschoolers may only attend half days and may even go only 2-3 days a week whereas Kindergartners get the message that they are "big boys and girls" because they attend all day and may ride a bike or walk to school. Be careful with the messaging, many 5 year olds aren't emotionally ready or wanting to be "big." I notice that we are advancing our kids so quickly that childhood is in the express lane these days. Remember to focus a lot less on reading and writing and instead use your valuable time together to simple play! The value of play has been lost in our society but not in the value of actual childhood development. In the first few months your child may "regress" and want to play with toys log put away- go with it- they are testing the security in their relationships. It's okay. Be silly, be playful, and cherish this stage.
School Age - this age of children that I am defining as 1st-5th grade may not have the issues with separation as they did the years before but they may experience anxiety about their teachers and social interactions with peers. To help prepare them mentally, you can start with tangible logistics that will ease anxiety.. Provide them with their teacher's name and a class list as soon as you can so they can get comfortable with the idea of who they will be spending lots of time with. Assure them you will get all of the supplies, clothes, uniforms, and shoes ahead of time so there is less stress. And last, remind them toward the end of summer which friends they were enjoying before school let out. For a kid 8-12 weeks is a lifetime and they may feel uncertain in those friendships if they didn't see those friends over the summer. So, connecting them with friends even just a week before school starts can make a world of difference. Also, look over schedules and make sure your child knows where they are going and when. Last, be careful of not over-scheduling your child with activities, that can add to the anxiety that they already feel.
Middle School - you may be surprised as to what I have been sharing with my clients who have a middle schooler (or who are going to be middle schoolers themselves). Ready for it?... We, as a society, have really swung quite far in reminding girls and boys ages 11-13 how tough middle school is. There are series of books for kids on the topic filled with horror stories, there are movies, there are parenting books, there are curricula, the list goes on and on. They get it- middle school is hard. I think to prepare your child you can keep the message simple. Middle school is a time of great change. Over the next three years your mind, body, opinions and body will change. Change is hard. As you go through these changes let's keep talking. I love you. Period.
High School - the pressure is high for teenagers. Mentally preparing them should be focused on their character development. decision making and impulse control. Middle school has likely already drilled into them the academic demands, your role is to help them understand that the decisions they make in high school really matter. They get to start over in many cases by going to large high schools where they will be meeting new people. They should think about who they want to show up as. I have my teen clients walk through their first quarter with me in their heads. I have them describe and imagine what they are doing, who they are hanging out with, what activities they are involved in, what they are doing on weekends- it helps them get a sense of creating their own reality and having a sense of control over it.
College - mentally preparing a young adult for college is a part of your parent launch plan that was set the day your child was born. Whether you are thinking of it this way or not, you have been in dress rehearsal for this day for 18 years. You want to launch them with a sense of confidence in themselves. You want them to know what their own strengths and areas to grow are. You want to let them know you are here to listen and will be shifting to more of an advisor when asked. While your child in college is not all on their own, and likely far from it, they are now doing their own dress rehearsal for life. They need to know when to ask for help and when to try to problem solve on their own. The greatest gift you can give them is a sense of self. A sense of trusting their own gut, and of learning from failures. Discuss their lessons learned and praise them when you have seen them grow. This is what they now need most, without mom or dad around everyday, they need to know that they have learned the lessons that they have needed to. You can remind them that they have been allowed to fail, get up and try again. And maybe most importantly, those transitioning to college need to know that they will continue to fail and that it is the getting back up and trying again process that is what is most important.
To all you parents preparing your children for back to school, I commend you and wish you Happy Parenting along the way!