Beating the Back-to-School Blues

Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.

Copyright © 2013 Center for the Challenging Child

Is your child worried about starting school, saying she doesn’t want to go, and resisting your efforts to calm her fears? As the beginning of the school year approaches, here are some powerful suggestions for smoothing your child’s path to a new academic year.

“The most helpful thing you can do is to casually let your child know that you are comfortable with the start of the school year, you think of it as routine, and you are there for him as he makes the transition. If you think of it as a crisis, so will your child.

Use these seven tips to help you and your child prepare for the upcoming school year.

1. Listen deeply to your child. Reflect how he feels back to him in clear words. When fears start to arise, make eye contact, showing that you really care and say, “I can tell you are worried about the kids on the bus being bullies.” Then end the conversation. It is amazing how just calmly acknowledging the fear helps it to dissipate.

2. Regulate bedtime now. Too many children start the school year exhausted because they adjust their summer “staying-up-late” schedule to “early rising” the day before school starts. Instead, institute a routine of 8 p.m. bedtime and 7 a.m. rising one week in advance. Even though it is still light out at 8, kids need their sleep so badly that it’s in their best interests to do this so that they have adjusted and are ready for the challenges of a new school year. This is vitally important particularly when the child is changing schools.

3. Read books about going back to school with young children. David Goes Back to School by David Shannon is an example of an excellent picture book for children ages 4-7. Audrey Penn’s The Kissing Hand, published by the Child Welfare League of America, is just the right book for any child taking that fledgling plunge into preschool–or for any youngster who is temporarily separated from home or loved ones. Many more resources are available through online book stores.

4. Develop a plan for the first day of school. You may even want to set out clothes and backpacks to rehearse the school morning, so that kids can predict exactly how it will go. This will reduce anxiety for everyone, including parents. Being able to adjust your routine to fit your needs when there is no time stress is a perfect way to get off on the right foot.

5. Encourage your child to think of solutions. If your son has repeated a fear to you several times in the past week, resist the temptation to reassure him with “truths” such as,

“The teacher will like you. Don’t worry about that,” or

“You will know how to find your bus. The monitor will help you,” or

“Of course you are smart enough to go to fourth grade!”

Often the child gets little real comfort from this type of statement. If he has a substantial amount of fear, his mind will go immediately to an argument for almost anything you say. Instead, ask “How?”

“How do you think the teacher will get to know you?”

“How do you think kids find their buses on the first day?”

“How do you think the work in fourth grade compares to the work in third grade? Do you think there will be any review from last year?”

This way the child learns to think, rather than just get enveloped in fear. And when he comes up with his own thoughts about the fearful situation, he can accept them better … no need to argue!

6. Place trust in your child. When driving in the car or at bedtime, say, “I was just thinking of all the ways I trust you. You are so good with your little sister, and I am so proud of that. You play with the dog so nicely, and you are such a good master to her. You can tell she trusts you, too. I can trust you to respond when I call you in from outside. You are just a trustworthy person!” This plants the seed for self-trust in your child, which is vital to adjusting to the new school year. No need to talk directly about school. Simply planting the message of trustworthiness is enough.  It also staves off resistance to your encouragement.  No more, “Dad, I KNOW!  You don’t have to keep telling me!”

7. Tell stories of your own school experiences. As adults we often forget to share our childhood tales with our own kids. They think we can’t understand them, because we are big and they are little. It’s so helpful to remind our children that we were kids once, too. It increases our credibility to show them that we have experience, and that we have overcome obstacles. So share the stories of your success with challenging situations, so kids realize they are not the only ones who face these things. A sense of camaraderie with one’s parents is a wonderful family-builder!

If you could use Tina’s support as you help your child adjust to school, call 651-453-0123 or e-mail tina@parentingmojo.com today to set up an appointment!

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