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Back-to-School Jitters

Six tips to support your child’s transition.

Key points

  • Validating a child’s feelings without judgment is an important component of listening and creating a safe space for the child to open up.
  • As a parent, you can be mindful of your challenges and model your thinking patterns and actions in coping with these challenges.
  • Talk about what to expect when returning to school, and write a school routine to help you both feel prepared.
Caleb Oquendo/Pexels
Source: Caleb Oquendo/Pexels

Back to school can create a mixture of emotions for parents and children.

Here are six tips to help in supporting and validating this transition for families:

1. Listen and validate. It is important to be mindful of how your child may be feeling about the back-to-school transition. Keep conversations open and non-judgmental. Validating a child’s feelings without judgment is an important component of truly listening and creating a safe space for the child to open up. This way of listening allows parents to see things from their child’s point of view.

2. Model. Science is clear that parents are important models for children’s own thoughts and behaviours. A parent can be considered a steward of their child’s thoughts and emotions. As a parent, you can be mindful of your own challenges and model your own thinking patterns and actions in coping with these challenges. For example, you can say to your child, “I had so much fun with you this summer. I feel sad to separate from you for school days, but I am also excited because school can be a fun place for you to learn and connect with friends.”

3. Literature. Reading books about transitions and emotions can be fun and helpful. Some of my favorites for kids (and that I love to read with my children) include The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and The Invisible String by Patrice Karst. These books can serve as catalysts for opening up conversations about transitions.

4. Prepare a good routine together. Talk about what to expect when returning to school, and write out a good school routine for both to be aware of and feel prepared. Depending on your child’s needs, you may wish to focus on parts of the routine that feel more challenging for your child. For instance, if getting ready in the morning is difficult, breaking down steps to follow (e.g., getting dressed, brushing teeth) can be a helpful guide for your child to follow.

5. Problem solve together. In listening to your child, some things may arise that can benefit from some problem-solving. Together with your child, you can make a plan and figure out a good solution to these issues. For example, if your child is feeling nervous about going back to school, you can talk about what the child can expect at school (e.g., teachers, other students, what does the classroom look like?) and practice some relaxation exercises to help your child feel more confident in using these when attending school.

Finding a trusting adult or friend at school who can support your child if needed is helpful. Some schools also offer “quiet space” rooms where children can go when feeling overwhelmed.

6. Keep things positive. It is important to praise the effort and what your child has done well in transitioning back to school, no matter how small. As parents, we want to focus on our children’s strengths and reward their resilience with praise (and perhaps a small treat) to make them feel good about their efforts.

A version of this post was published here.

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