It’s that time of year again and parents all over the country are getting their children to return to school. Whether it is a little one going to Kindergarten for the first time, or a young adult going away to college, there are bound to be some worries and concerns for both kids and parents. KidsPeace Institute Senior Training and Development Specialist Jodi Campbell offers some suggestions on how to ease the transitions.

 

WORRY and ANXIETY

Going back to school represents change: a new year, a new start. Kids may be flooded with questions and worries about coming school year: Will I like my school and my teacher? What if I miss mom and dad? Will the kids like me? Will I be able to talk to that cute girl this year? How will I handle my classes? Can I even do the work? What will my roommate be like? Is that mean kid going to be in my class again this year? What will happen on the bus ride?

 

Worry and anxiety can cause some of the following:

  • Disrupted sleep (more sleep or less sleep than usual
  • Disrupted eating (eating more than usual, or inability to eat)

  • Physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches)

  • Irritability, mood swings.

Usually, these are temporary and will resolve in a few weeks once the transition is established. If they do not, consult a doctor.

 

It may be difficult to know what your child is thinking, so the best thing to do is ASK. Start the conversation in a casual way, perhaps while he/she is doing something enjoyable. Meet your child where she is. Get down on the floor in the playroom. Send a message on Facebook. Talk in the car.

 

Some possible conversation starters:

 

Elementary School: “So, school is starting really soon. You must be excited AND nervous at the same time! I know I would be. What do you think?”

 

Middle School: “So, what are you thinking about school? Are you freaking out at all? Worried about anything? Talk to me…”

 

High School: “Hey – just want to check in with you about high school starting. I know you are totally ready for this. But just remember I’m here if you’re stressing out at all. Let me know if there is anything I can do, ok?”

 

College: “So, leaving home. This is huge. What’s going through your mind about all this?”

 

Dealing with worry and anxiety can be overwhelming, but remember…lots of times it’s just a matter of thinking things through out loud. When we keep it inside, it can get out of control. When we talk it out and put it all on the table, it’s much more manageable. So, do what you can to bring up conversations and provide opportunities to vent. But, this is important…DO NOT force your child to talk. Make yourself easy to talk to. If you do this, then, even if they do not talk now, they will later…when they really need to.

 

PREVENTING WORRY and ANXIETY

  1. Participate in any orientation activities the school offers.
  2. Discuss how things will go once school starts including schedules, walking routes, bus stops, morning and evening home routines, etc. Kids are more successful when they are pre-taught.
  3. Know your resources at the school. Find out in advance who the important figures are at your child’s school. Know their names and how to reach them. (Principal, nurse, guidance counselor, advisor, dean, etc.)
  4. For K – high school students, make an alliance with your child’s teacher. In today’s world, email is a great tool for this. Make email contact with your child’s teacher within the first two weeks of school. Introduce yourself and encourage the teacher to drop you a line whenever necessary. Your relationship with this teacher should be appropriate for the age level – the younger the child, the closer that relationship should be.
  5. For college students, do the OPPOSITE. Do not contact professors on behalf of your child. Let your young adult navigate this new world on his/her own. This is crucial. Only in extreme situations, such as your child’s physical safety being at risk, should you be getting involved with college officials. Do not negotiate grades or ask for extensions on behalf of you child – ever.

 

You and your child have made it through the transition, perhaps with no initial worries, but now  some problems are cropping up…

 

PROBLEMS at SCHOOL

 

Some of the more common problems children experience in the school environment include:

 

Elementary and Middle School:

  • Problems with the teacher (not liking the teacher, getting in trouble with the teacher, afraid of the teacher)
  • Problems with peers (bullying, exclusion, getting “in with the wrong crowd”)

          Problems with romantic relationships (“first” boyfriend/girlfriend, lack of focus, break-ups, abusive or unhealthy relationships)

          Learning problems (attention problems, reading difficulties, learning disabilities)

  • Organizational problems (forgetting things, losing things, not completing assignments, getting behind)

  • Behavior problems (not following rules, getting into trouble)

  •  Mental health issues (emerging)

 

High School:

  • High expectations (pressure is too much to be successful, perform, get into a good college, get a scholarshh
  • Learning and organizational problems continue, especially if unresolved from earlier grades
  • Peer Issues (changing friendships and social groupings, pressure to fit in
  • Sexuality (romantic relationships, pressure to have sex, questions about sexual orientation
  • High-risk behaviors (substance use, driving, self-injury, eating disorders, steroid use, hazing, violence, etc.)
  • Academic problems (classes are harder – lack of established study skills cause problems)          

 

 College:

  • Problems with roommate and living arrangements
  • Problems with making new friends, dealing with romantic involvement
  • Homesickness

  • Physical wellness (poor nutrition, lack of sleep, exposed to illnesses in living arrangements, high-stress, safe sex, substance use, etc.)

  • Division of focus (academics versus social expectations
  •  Substance use abuse
  •  Hazing (sports teams, fraternities/sororities, etc.)

  • Workload and schedule (self-management, responsibility, attending/skipping classes)

  •  Economic problems (working, paying for basic needs, paying bills, running up credit cards)

 

So first, how does a parent KNOW there are problems at school?

 

  1. Know your children. If you know your children, then you know when they are “off” or “not themselves.” This is crucial. If this happens, you know it’s time to reach out and start asking questions. He/she may not fess up the first time you ask, but make yourself available. Encourage; don’t push. It will come out eventually.
  2. Look for a change – atypical behavior for your child in the following arenas: academic performance, punctuality, eating, sleeping, physical appearance and involvement in their interests and hobbies. A sudden or drastic change in any of these areas is a red flag for parents.

 

Ok, so you think there is a problem. What do you do?

 

  1. Know your resources and use them. Use the resources available at your child’s school to be an extra set of eyes and an additional perspective.
  2. Talk to your child. Do not be afraid to ask difficult questions. Be there and notice your child is in pain. Noticing makes your child feel important – worthy. Be comfortable with whatever he/she says. Be open and compassionate, regardless of the situation.
  3. Empower your child. Be a COACH, not the Calvary. Do not solve your child’s problems for her. Give suggestions and check back in to see how it’s going. That being said, you should know what your “line in the sand” is. Though we do everything we can to let our children make their own choices, we also have to know when “enough is enough.”
  4. When you do intervene, do it with dignity. Avoid getting into a conversation with another child, or another child’s parent. When issues are this big, go through the school whenever possible. Keep your cool. If you do, school officials will be more willing to help you and your child.

 

BIG PROBLEMS

 

So, what if you’ve tried all these things, and your child is still suffering? What if in your “gut” you just KNOW that something is really wrong?

 

If you suspect that your child is getting depressed or having a serious mental health issue (suicidal, hurting others, eating disorder, self-injury, etc.) you should GET HELP.

 

Do not be afraid to contact a professional so that your child can talk to someone who has helped other children before in the same situation. Don’t go it alone.

 

How to get help:

  1. Contact the school and see what resources are available there.
  2. Visit www.kidspeace.org for tips from experts.
  3. Encourage your child to visit www.TeenCentral.Net, an anonymous free website designed to give kids feedback from Master's level counselors when they are not sure where to turn.