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?
Kids are unique in so many ways. It will be important to start with accepting, recognizing and celebrating who she is as a person. Sometimes just hearing, “I hear you are anxious. Lots of kids feel this way,” can validate her feelings and make her feel supported. Be her biggest cheerleader! Reassure her about all the amazing things about her. In order to reduce her anxiety, start with what she might be anxious about. Is she anxious about a new route? Take her on the route a few days beforehand. Is she nervous about making friends? Talk to her about how she can make friends. About a week prior, start making a plan and routine for school. Start driving by the school every few days, go shopping and pick out items only 5th graders can have, or schedule her a haircut. Most of all, support her and allow her to talk to you whenever she is feeling anxious. Lastly, if you feel she needs to talk to a professional, reach out to a therapist in your area that specializes in this area.
Jennifer Vincent, Licensed Mental Health 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?
Transitions for children, whether they be into a new preschool program, a new classroom or a new routine, can be a struggle. While it may be difficult initially to drop your child off in a new environment, this perceived separation anxiety does not typically last long. By initiating a drop-off routine with your child, you appropriately set expectations and instill a sense of comfort. I like to suggest to parents having a three-step drop-off routine. For example, talk to your child about what happens when you drop them off at school: “When we get to school we are going to wash hands, mommy/daddy is going to give you a big hug and then mommy/daddy is going to leave for work.” Remind your child of the three steps so they feel comfortable and confident in knowing the routine. Lastly, please never sneak out of your child’s classroom; this creates confusion and fear for your child. Your child is very perceptive, and he or she notices your emotions. If you are hesitant to leave, your child may begin to feel unsafe and uncomfortable in the environment. Know that your child is going to have fun at school and that you have made a wonderful choice in exposing them to a preschool environment where they will be surrounded by peers and can socialize, learn and play all at the same time!
Kelly Emmert, Director, IUPUI Center for Young Children
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, Indy’s Child “Ask the Teacher” columnist
I 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?
First of all, this is so normal whenever and wherever it shows up. For me, it usually happens at the end of the school year, and I find myself getting suddenly choked up at some random end-of-school event. Also, this is a real thing, the feeling that time moves more quickly as we get older. Neuroscientist David Eagleman explains that new information demands more attention and focus from our brains, which can make it seem like time passes more slowly, while familiar information and experiences are processed more quickly, so it can feel like time passes more quickly. Time may seem to move more slowly with very young children because our learning curve and their care needs are so great, but time “speeds up” as we become more competent and children follow a more consistent routine with less frequent developmental milestones. It might help to slow things down by noticing how well we pay attention to the details of the present moment – the wonderful, difficult and sad. Feelings of grief and nostalgia are not so much “a slump” but part of the human experience and evidence that you are loving deeply. It is possible that time may go more slowly the more we are “in the moment” with our children, paying attention to how they are growing and changing and also finding ways to grow and change as well.
Rebecca Willis, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Indy Counseling and Wellness Group
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.