Friday, August 24, 2012

Get Psyched Friday: Back to School - Coping with Transition

It's time for another edition of Get Psyched Friday. Dr. Eleanor Mackey writes about helping children cope with back-to-school transitions.

Back to school time is often filled with equal amounts of excitement and apprehension. Helping your children cope with these emotions and start off the new school year on the right foot are important tasks for a parent.

This year, L starts in her mixed-age primary classroom – her first time not in a small classroom with a lot of one-on-one attention. She tells me in her own way that she is nervous, like feeling me out when she gets up in the morning by saying, “I’m not going to Ms. Shannon’s class today, right?” I have my own nerves about the transition. I will miss her wonderful teachers from the two-year-old classroom, so I understand where she is coming from. Unlike L, I also have the benefit of an adult perspective knowing that this year is going to be wonderful for her development and she will make new relationships with teachers and peers.

Each child will have his own way of communicating his excitement and fears to his parents. Try to listen carefully to what your child is saying and how he is saying it for clues as to how you can help.

What can parents do to help calm their child’s nerves?

For most kids, their anxiety about school is very normal and does not get in the way of their overall well-being. For these kids, parents can:
  • Sit down with your kids and help them make a list of all the things they are excited about in the coming school year.
  • Set up playdates with peers from their class so they can have a familiar face to look forward to seeing.

For some kids, school anxiety can be crippling and can lead to school refusal and avoidance. Often these kids will complain of headaches and stomachaches that aren’t linked to any known medical problems when it is time to go to school. It is important for parents to seek help in these situations.

  • Psychologists can be an important partner in decreasing school anxiety and helping parents manage their child’s fears. Children’s National has an outstanding child and adolescent anxiety program that specializes in these issues.
  • A good resource for parents of anxious children is the book The Anxiety Cure for Kids.
  •  If your child complains of frequent headaches or stomachaches, talk to your pediatrician to rule out any medical concerns.

Get back into a routine!

Summer is a great time to step out of the daily grind of the school year. However, getting back into routine is an equally important step to starting off the new school year right.
  •  Sleep often changes over summer vacation with kids staying up late and sleeping in late. To get kids on a better routine for the school year, start moving bedtime earlier gradually and making sure kids are waking up early in preparation for the new year at least a week or two in advance of the first day of school. Read our guide to learn how much sleep children need.
  • Get kids into healthy eating routines. This includes eating breakfast every day, which is often skipped over the summer when kids are sleeping in.
o   Have good “grab-and-go” options for kids so that they can eat even when they are rushed.
o   Make sure to do a family dinner at least a few times a week and continue this during the school year if possible. Family meals are a good place to have a healthful dinner and for kids to talk to parents about school, which can alleviate much of their anxiety.

Helping your child settle into a good routine, cope with any nerves about the new school year, and get excited for what’s to come is important. If you are having trouble or have concerns about your child, make an appointment with your pediatrician or a psychologist.

What is the most exciting thing in your family about the new school year? What do your kids worry about the most?

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