Portland, OR, August 1, 2017 – 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.
Fortunately, children are extremely capable of coping with change and caregivers can help them in the process by providing a setting that fosters resilience and encourages them to share and express their feelings about returning to school.
Before school starts, Oregon psychologists offer suggestions to help parents, caregivers and kids prepare:
Restart your family’s school routine: A week or two 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.
Get to know your neighbors: If your family is new to the neighborhood and your child is starting a new school, walk around the block and get to know the neighborhood children. Try and set up a play date, or, for an older child, find out where neighborhood kids might go to safely hang out, like the community pool, recreation center or park.
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.
To learn more visit the American Psychological Association at www.apa.org/helpcenter and follow @APAHelpCenter. To find out more about OPA visit www.opa.org and follow @OregonPsychEd.
Celeste Jones, Psy.D., ABPP
Chair, Oregon Psychological Association Public Education Committee