The backpacks are packed, new outfits are picked out and the first day of school is finally here! It is so normal for kids to have first day of school jitters—worried about what the year may look like academically and socially, and whether it will be a good one or not for them. As parents, we too may naturally have our own set of concerns for our child’s upcoming school year. Here are some quick tips to help deal with your child’s (and your own!) back-to-school jitters:
1. Validate: If your child is worried about school—classes, teachers, homework, friends—validate these concerns, letting him/her know that it is so normal and natural to be concerned about doing something new. Let them know that you understand it and get it, and maybe even share a time in your life that you anticipated an upcoming school year. Try not to let their anxiety/concerns make you feel anxious. Just as you are telling them how normal and natural it is to be concerned, let’s also remind yourself of that!
2. Breaking It Down Into Smaller Parts: It can feel overwhelming to think about the entire year ahead and all that may be in store. To help reduce the stress of thinking about it all, I encourage you to help your child break time and tasks down into small intervals/parts. It feels so much easier to think about how you will get through the first week of school rather than thinking about the first six months of school. When we break things down into smaller, more manageable parts we feel less overwhelmed, and when we feel less overwhelmed we are more likely to effectively, efficiently, and successfully accomplish what we want. If we are talking about goals for the year in this regard, we want to give them small, manageable goals. For example, for a social goal we may say something like “try to make one new social plan this week,” rather than suggesting finding a new group of friends this year.
3. Be in the Moment and Try Not to Get Ahead of Yourself: While it’s natural to wonder about what may be in store for the year ahead, let’s try not to spend too much time thinking/worrying about it (nor let our kids do this!); instead, take more of a wait and see approach! That is, rather than spending your time thinking about/worrying all of the various ways that the year may play itself out (that is, all the “WHAT IF” scenarios - e.g., what if I have a tough teacher, what if my friend group changes, what if I don’t do as well as I hope, etc.)...let’s try to be in the present. Being in the present means asking yourself “is there anything I can do about these future scenarios I am concerned about now?” If the answer is ‘yes,’ we try to do them (e.g., if a student is concerned about not doing well on a test, then studying is the thing in his/her control right now); if the answer is ‘no’ (e.g. perhaps he/she is worried about a test that the teacher hasn’t even mentioned yet), then we have to recognize this as “worry” and try to bring ourselves back to the here and now. There will be plenty of time to stress and problem-solve if our feared scenarios do actually happen, why spend time and energy before hand doing so, when they may never even happen at all? Let’s save our energy to help us deal with stressful situations when/IF they actually happen, rather than deplete our energy by worrying that we may have to deal with something stressful in the future, making it harder to actually deal with it if it were to happen.
4. Scheduled Breaks For Relaxation and Fun. While I am sure your child’s schedule is already filling up quickly with activities, school meetings, birthday parties and plans, let’s be sure that included in that schedule are planned relaxation & enjoyment breaks. Such planned breaks means having scheduled time, for a set time (e.g., 15-30 mins), to be able to actively relax and decompress and do something enjoyable each day! Reason to have scheduled and timed breaks?
Permission to Relax and Enjoy: Make it clear to both parent and child when this relaxation time is happening. Kids know they are able to relax and enjoy without being reminded about their homework!
Recharge: Kids can recharge from the day and be more efficient and effective when they do turn to their work.
Lift their Moods: Having something planned and enjoyable to do, gives them something to look forward to each day and helps lift their moods when they do it.
Contain it: By having this time timed (don’t forget to set a timer!), it contains the amount of time so that it is not spilling into the whole night. This also helps manage expectations for kids, so they can plan their relaxation time accordingly.
When kids feel overwhelmed at the beginning of the year, knowing that they have this designated time and space and permission each day to relax and do something enjoyable may help things to feel more manageable. I strongly encourage you as parents to also have this time for yourself each day!
5. One Data Point Is Just One Data Point. When we have anticipation about something, it is so easy to draw conclusions based on one data point. For example, a child may have a difficult day in school and may conclude that the year is going to be a bad one, or they may have a negative social interaction and be convinced that he/she will struggle socially for the year, or earn a poor first test grade and decide they won’t do well in the class. Let’s be sure we remind our children and ourselves that just like one day can be a difficult one, the next day can be a positive one; one test grade can be a low one and the following one a positive one; and one social interaction an awkward one and the next a positive one. So long as we don’t let that data point become a self-fulfilling prophecy (e.g., the poor test grade makes the student feel hopeless about doing well and therefore doesn’t study and does actually not do well again), then the data point can be just one of many data points and nothing we should make much of unless it becomes a pattern.
Wishing everyone a good school year ahead!
Dr. Stacey Lessans
141 East 55th Street, New York, NY 10022
1025 Northern Blvd, Manhasset, NY 11576