Beth Hail: Parenting tips for back-to-school success

So long, summer. It’s back to school season in Tennessee, an exciting time of new adventures for students, teachers, and parents alike. However, for many young people, this time of year can also mean a fresh round of transitions that bring about fear and stress.
Aug 9, 2014

So long, summer. It’s back to school season in Tennessee, an exciting time of new adventures for students, teachers, and parents alike. However, for many young people, this time of year can also mean a fresh round of transitions that bring about fear and stress. 

Whether it’s starting at a new campus or just moving to the next grade level, back to school changes take a real toll on many young people. Sure, first-day jitters are normal, but here are some tips parents can use to be sure a child’s anxiety doesn’t become overwhelming. 

Know the Territory

Familiar routines are comforting to kids, so new surroundings and schedules can temporarily throw them off balance. Parents can help curb this anxiety by doing a little prep work. 

For the younger student, get his or her class schedule in advance and attend orientation together. No orientation? Call to schedule a school visit and do a walk-through. Find the classrooms, lockers, gym, cafeteria and library. Meet some teachers. Introduce your child to a typical day at school. Knowing the territory in advance builds confidence and calms nerves. 

Although older students may not want parents to attend orientation, offer to help review any new rules, building maps and other information that are sent home.

Talk About Feelings

As children get back into school, it’s important for parents to be supportive and foster an open dialogue about their child’s feelings. Engage your child in regular conversation as the academic year begins. Learn how he or she is coping with change. If your child is struggling, validate his or her feelings. Kids need to know this is a stressful time of transition for everyone – and that they aren’t alone.

Dismissing anxiety could cause a child to internalize his or her feelings. So, remain an open sounding-board for vetting concerns, and you’ll be more likely to stay informed about any changes. 

Guide Kids’ Efforts

The ever-growing variety of classes, clubs and teams made available to students adds to the feeling of being a little fish in a big pond. Help your child by talking about his or her interests. Discuss long-term goals and evaluate how extracurricular activities may contribute to those goals. Guide your child toward finding his or her niche and maximizing these new opportunities. 

Above all, parents can help children adjust by simply being supportive. Let your child know you love, support and are proud of him or her and are excited for the opportunities ahead. 

Look for Signs

Most back-to-school stress dissipates within a few weeks. However, for some students, the adjustment can be tougher. Look for emotional and behavioral symptoms such as prolonged sadness, irritability, loss of interest, sleep disturbances, lack of energy, loss of appetite or unexplained physical ailments, such as headaches. These could be signs of unhealthy anxiety. 

Beth Hail is Centerstone’s director of school-based services. She may be reached at beth.hail@centerstone.org. Centerstone, a nonprofit provider of community-based behavioral healthcare, provides a range of programs and services for children, adolescents, adults, seniors and families living with mental health or addiction disorders.

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