When the new school year begins some children experience feelings of excitement, happiness and present a positive outlook regarding the new journey and experiences that a wait them.
However, for others, going back to school can be difficult. Some children could experience feelings of stress, worry or frustration. This could be seen as school refusal, crying, tantrums and acting out. It is important to remember that children often communicate through their behaviors, if they are unable to find the proper choice of words.
It can be helpful to identify, acknowledge and verbalize the child’s feelings to allow them to feel heard. For example, “I see that you are (upset/ worried/ angry) right now” and ask what they need (a quiet space, squeeze a stress ball, draw, ect.) or offer to engage them in a calming activity to help improve their mood, IF they are willing. When emotions are elevated, it can be difficult to determine the root cause of that emotion, and you will most likely get general responses such as “I don’t want to go to school” or “I hate school”. These general responses typically don’t point out the underlying issue that is bothering them.
Reframing Unhelpful Thoughts
Once they have calmed down, it could be helpful to explore what their primary concerns might be. Often times when children are dealing with a situation, they automatically assume that it will lead to the worst possible outcome. Once you have identified their primary concern, you might be able to help them put this thought into perspective by seeking evidence that supports their thought and seeking evidence does not support their thought. ( See Attached Worksheet )
Sometimes these thoughts can be ridged and the child can get stuck and only see their world out of a negative lens. It could be helpful to acknowledge their feelings and help them shift their mindset to a more positive outlook. This could be done by pointing out the positives about school, such as the fun activities that you know they enjoy.
Preparing for Transitions
Preparing children for the transition of going back to school can also help reduce feelings of stress by familiarizing them with the change and what is expected of them, before the change actually takes place. Some children might be used to the summer routine and will struggle with the transitions involved in going back to school (morning routine, new teacher, new classroom, new set of students in class, work demands, and possibly even going to a new school etc.). When this occurs you could ease their transition by helping them prepare in advance for what is expected of them. For example, having them get used to a morning wake up time, or morning routine, at least a week or so before school begins. If it is an option, it could also be helpful to take them to campus a few days before school starts so they can get used to the campus if it is a new school or just to familiarize themselves with their new classroom.
Remember Self Care
Parenting is a difficult job and when kids go back to school it can create additional stress. Often times parents put self-care on the back burner. When this happens, it can increase the chance for burn out, increase fatigue and even reduce one’s patience. Be sure to set aside some time for yourselves and focus on self-care, whether it be listening to music in the car, reading a good book, mediation, yoga, et). When parents engage in self-care, not only can it help improve your emotional and physical wellbeing, but modeling this skill for your children can teach them to implement it as means to reduce their own stress as well.
I wish you all a wonderful new school year.
Kristi Grizard, LCSW # 99979 | LICENSED CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER
Kristi can be reached at (805)262-7913 or by email at email@example.com.