Whether it’s the first day of kindergarten, returning from a long summer vacation or going to a new school, back to school time can be overwhelming for many parents, children and teens. The transition from summer to school time can test families’ coping skills in dealing with adjustments such as new teachers, new classrooms or even new schools as well as parents struggling with managing school and hectic work schedules.
Often the fear of the unknown — classmates, teachers, the school building — is the most stressful, whether for the children hopping on the school bus or their parents who have to wave goodbye.
“Back-to-school time for kids and parents can be both exciting and stressful. Adjusting to new routines, new teachers, and new classrooms is a lot of change all at once. For some, this can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking, which makes it a great time to practice healthy coping strategies like breathing, mindfulness, time management, and planning,” says Dr. Natalie Dattilo, a clinical psychologist in Indianapolis and Public Education Coordinator for IPA.
Fortunately, children are extremely capable of coping with change and caregivers can help them in the process by providing an environment that fosters resilience and encourages them to share their feelings about returning to school.
As kids go back to school this month, Indiana psychologists offer suggestions to help parents, caregivers and kids prepare:
Restart your family’s school routine: If possible, about a week before school starts, parents should try and get their kids back into the school routine. This may mean kids go to bed at their normal time on a school night and wake up early as they would do for school. Having backpacks, binders, lunchboxes and even cafeteria money organized will also help with the transition into the school routine and will help make the first morning go smoothly.
Talk to your child: Asking children about their fears or worries about going back to school will help them share their burden. Inquire as to what they liked about their previous school or grade and see how those positives can be incorporated into their new experience. If your child expresses uncertainty about the new school year, it may be that you and your child walk through the building and visit your child’s locker or meet with a friend from the previous school year to help ease anxiety of the unknown and reconnect to classmates. And after school starts, take time to listen to your children and discuss their day at school and any issues they may have.
Empathize with your children: Change can be difficult, but also exciting. Let your children know that you are aware of what they’re going through and that you will be there to help them in the process. Nerves are normal, but highlight that not everything that is different is necessarily bad. It is important to encourage children to face their fears instead of falling in to the trap of encouraging avoidance. Celebrate when they do something that made them nervous.
Get involved and ask for help: Knowledge of the school and the community will better equip parents and caregivers to understand their child’s surroundings and the transition he or she is undergoing. Meeting members of the community and school will foster support for both parent and child. If parents feel the stress of the school year is too much to handle, seeking expert advice from a licensed psychologist, can help them better manage and cope.
Dr. Dattilo agrees. “This time of year doesn’t have to be difficult. For many, it offers a ‘fresh start’ and a chance to establish new and healthy habits for your family. You could even sit down together and decide on a family goal for the new school year. Staying connected is one of the most helpful things we can do to deal with the stress of change.”
To learn more visit the American Psychological Association at www.apa.org/helpcenter and follow @APAHelpCenter. To find out more about the Indiana Psychological Association visit www.indianapsychology.org and follow @IN_Psych_Assoc
The Indiana Psychological Association (IPA) is the largest organization in the state representing the interests of psychologists and consumers in the area of mental health and wellness. Incorporated in 1937, IPA is one of the oldest and most well established state psychological associations in the nation. IPA’s membership includes more over 400 psychologists and students. The IPA’s purpose is to advance psychology as a science and a profession and promote public welfare.
The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA’s membership includes more than 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.