By Renata Klabacha, LMFT
Whether it’s first day of preschool or first semester of college, children experience a wide range of emotions about returning to school; anxiety, excitement, hope and fear. It’s important to have a conversation to normalize and validate all their feelings.
Many kids are excited and look forward to seeing friends that they haven’t seen during the summer. They get to catch up and share summer adventures. Some children might be nervous to make new friends after a move while others worry that old friends won’t like them anymore. Parents can assure children that many kids feel the same and review how to make or keep friends. The Golden Rule applies to all ages; be kind, friendly, respectful and most of all be themselves. Have your child identify qualities that they possess that others appreciate and enjoy. As your child recognizes these characteristics their self-confidence and self-worth with grow, melting away any fears.
Children also worry about their academic performance. Again validate and normalize their fears. Remind your child that the school’s job is to challenge them and build on their previous knowledge. Explain to your child, that you expect them to have some struggles. This is normal and learning something new can be very difficult. Have your child identify times that they have struggles with an activity and how it got easier as they keep trying. Children with learning disabilities can be very sensitive to any criticism. Inform the teacher of the child’s learning struggles early on and maintain in contact throughout the school year to assure your child is getting the attention he or she needs. With your child, create a list of people who can help and encourage your child to ask for help often. Praise them when they do ask for help. Remind children that they are not competing with other students, they are completing with themselves.
Unfortunately children who have been bullied fear and hate going back to school. Empower your child by role-playing ways to use their voice and stand up to bullies. If your child struggles to protect themselves, reach out to teachers, school staff, and administration for assistance. Outside of school, enroll your child in an activity that makes them feel strong and confident. Any type of martial arts can make a huge difference. It helps a child learn how to physically defend themselves. Rarely, do children use their new martial arts skills to hurt others, since it is not a part of the philosophy. This allows them to better access the situation with the bully, know when to walk away, and brush off any insults; which will make them a less desirable target for bullies. Have your child pass it on, by aiding friends or other students who are also being bullied.
Lastly, find school programs or sports that match your child’s interests. It will build a connection to the school while providing support for parents and student. Assuring that the child will be involved in positive activities.