Going Back to School: Support the Transition
Updated: Sep 4, 2018
No matter the age of your child or their grade in school, going back to school is a transition – and transitions cause anxiety. When starting something new, whether a different school or just a grade with new teachers, it is normal to have some worry or unease. The unknown is always a bit uncomfortable.
Anxiety can show up in for differently for each of us. For some it shows up as nervous excitement, for others it may show up in grumpy behavior, and some fall into overwhelm.
At my home, with three girls, in 10th, 9th and 7th grades, the anxiety before the 1st day of school is palpable. Each expresses her nervousness in a different way, but they all are not quite their “normal” selves. Just knowing that their summertime of freedom is coming to an end, sets them into tense moodiness and they are less predictable. Looking at their upcoming school year schedules, they wonder what their teachers will be like, how challenging the work will be, and if their friends will still be their friends. Although they are all returning to the same school, they anticipate change on the horizon.
My role is only to support them. They determine what they need to get ready, physically and emotionally. We shop for the school supplies and some new clothes, we clean and organize their rooms, and I stock the pantry with their favorite lunch foods. But more importantly, I acknowledge their anxiety. We talk about what they are looking forward to and what they are worried about. I encourage them to speak their worry so that they can better understand and pinpoint it (instead of worrying about everything). I don't let them wallow in the worry, but encourage them to plan through it. It's not my job to “fix” their concerns, but instead brainstorm with them ways that they could “fix” it themselves. We can talk through the "what if" scenarios until they feel a bit more confident. My focus is for them to find their solutions, not my solutions, because those are the solutions that will work for them.
It's important for me to remember that it is not just the first day of school that may stress them out. Often it can take several weeks before they fall into their routines and build their comfort level back up: knowing teachers' expectations, settling into the ease of their friend relationships, and managing their rigorous schedules. Once they experience some successes in the school year, the anxiety diminishes.
To help us through these few weeks, as a family we grow our gratitude and optimism. At dinner, we share our gratitude for the day - at least one thing we appreciate and are thankful for. Sometimes we make lists, sometimes we share one specific act of kindness, other times we write it down and put it in a jar to read later when we need it. In the morning before they leave for school, we voice one positive intention for the day so we start are day with at least one positive thought.
By recognizing, acknowledging and supporting the stress our children feel, we can help them manage it better. They can build habits that they can use in the future when they have to experience transitions. Wishing all parents and children a wonderful school year!