From the anticipation of entering of a new classroom with a different teacher to the return of worrying about grades and fitting in with other kids, a new school year brings a flurry of emotions for kids and their parents. Here we’ve asked local experts for their suggestions on how to handle a few common back to school dilemmas families often face.
Our family just moved to the area and my 10-year-old will be starting 5th grade at a new school. She is quite introverted, and as we get closer and closer to the first day of school, she is becoming more and more anxious. What can I do to help her get the new year off to a good start and have a positive experience?
Your concern for your daughter’s adjustment is understandable. Children at this age want to fit in and not be seen as an outsider. I encourage you to make an appointment to visit the school together at a time when other families will not be there. Meeting her teacher(s) and touring the school will increase her confidence. Ask them to pair her with an outgoing student who is familiar with the school and its routines so she can ask questions and find her way around. Allowing her to control her environment and be involved in planning for the start of school will let her feel more confident. Giving her choices about picking out her clothes, deciding what to eat, etc. will make the day something she is more excited about. Show her how she will get to and from school. Introduce yourself to the parents of neighborhood children to get their advice and establish some early connections. If she packs a lunch, insert a lunchbox note to let her know you are thinking of her and that you are confident in her ability to make it through the day. I wish you and your daughter the best, and welcome to the neighborhood!
Stephanie Beebe, Clinical Social Worker and Therapist in private practice
My 3-year-old really struggled with separation anxiety during his Mother’s Day Out program last year. He will be starting preschool this fall, and I’m worried it will be an issue again. Is there something I can do so he won’t miss me so much?
Separation anxiety for young preschoolers is very common (although difficult on the parents!) While there is not a full-proof answer to completely eliminate any fears your child might have, there are some strategies that can help make the transition a little easier. Set up a time prior to the beginning of school to meet with the teacher and look around the room. This will make the setting more familiar to your child. Talk to him in the weeks leading up to school about what will happen during his time there. Try to schedule some time for him to be away from you so that he can begin to adjust to being in someone else’s care. Always speak about school in a very positive manner, even if you are worried. Never use the words “fear” or “afraid.” If your child hears you using those words, he will start to think there is a reason to be afraid. You might tell him you are going somewhere that he doesn’t like when you drop him off – if he thinks you are going to be at the grocery store it might not be so appealing! And finally, tell your son you love him and that he will have a wonderful time.
Lisa Emery, Early Childhood Director, Montessori Academy of Cincinnati
Seventh grade was a rough one academically for my son. He struggled in several classes, and his grades really suffered. We’ve gotten him a tutor, which I hope will help turn things around, but his ego has taken a beating. He doesn’t think he’s smart, and I’m worried that this belief will influence what he feels like he’s capable of this year. How can I help him?
A new school year is a fresh start, and your son’s own resolve to do well is his greatest asset. Get the year off in a positive way by focusing on his past successes, whether academic or not, and by discussing what led to those successes. Identify the strengths that he has already demonstrated as the foundation upon which to develop the areas that challenge him. Do not ignore the problems of the past. An open, honest discussion about what caused the trouble in seventh grade is necessary to have a reasonable plan for improvement. Encourage your son to identify two specific areas upon which to focus, for example, test preparation, time management, proofreading assignments or consistent homework completion are some possibilities. As his habits change, add a different goal. Discuss with him now how you will monitor his progress each week and stick to the plan. Resist the urge to hover over his work every day; give him the opportunity to show that he has taken the personal responsibility needed to meet his goal. You are there as support, but your son must take ownership of this challenge. Be realistic. If last year’s fall in grades indicates that your son has some skill gaps that are essential building blocks to his current curriculum, it will take more study time and more work with a tutor to recover. And don’t wait until the end of the grading period to celebrate his improvements; acknowledge small successes along the way to help build his confidence.
Deb Krupowicz, Cincinnati Parent “Ask the Teacher” columnist
know this makes me sound like an overly sentimental mom, but back-to-school time is a little hard on me. The start of each new school year reminds me of how quickly my kids are growing up and will eventually leave the nest. I know I can’t make time stand still, so what can I do to work out of this slump and have a better frame of mind?
Please know that you are not alone; letting go really is hard to do! As parents, we are continually confronted with the reality of our children growing up and eventually leaving the nest. This can certainly create anxiety that many of us are not fully prepared for. The first step is to take a look within and explore what might be preventing you from letting go. This process will help you sort out mixed emotions and/or unresolved issues that may lie at the root of not being able to let go. Second, learn to embrace every new transition and celebrate the capable young adults your children are becoming. The more comfortable you are with each new transition, the easier it becomes for your children to progress to the next phase of development. Third, it’s important that you rediscover yourself. As your children become less dependent upon you, this is the perfect time to explore your interests, set personal goals and invest in yourself. Consider taking a class, learning a new hobby or volunteering your time. Finally, if you find yourself in a perpetual slump, please seek the help and advice of a professional.
Caroline Sanders, Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice
A new school year always presents new challenges – but also offers new opportunities for growth. Take comfort in knowing that whatever issue you may be dealing with is familiar territory for others who have tackled it before. If you’re facing a back to school dilemma this year, don’t hesitate to reach out to teachers, school counselors, other parents and mental health experts for their guidance.