Back to School 2017


As September approaches, we think about going back to school, school schedules, wearing jackets and boots, etc. for some children, there are firsts. First day of kindergarten, middle school, high school. First time living away from home.

All of these “firsts” can be fraught with both excitement and stress for both parents and students. 

Here are some tips for parents and students through the ages to make these “firsts” minimally stressful:

Kindergarten

If possible, familiarize your child with the school environment.  Take advantage of open house and orientation times where your child can meet the teacher and see the classroom ahead of time. If there are older siblings at the school, use them as mentors for the new kindergartner. Knowing that an older sibling is close by can relieve any first day trepidations.  

Some children have a very hard time with separation from their parents, however, and if your child is one, you also know that most likely, you child will quickly recover and be distracted by activities and people after a few minutes in school. For children like this, a few simple steps can help ease the transition:

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  • Talk with your child about what it will be like when you say goodbye for the day when they start school. You can act out the “saying goodbye” scene at home with toys. 
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  • Arrive at school a little early and meet some of the other parents and children before the day starts. If your child knows some classmates before going in the classroom, it makes things more comfortable for them.
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  • Put a laminated family picture in your child’s backpack. This gives the message that family is “with” the child all day
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  • Put a note in the child’s lunch box. Pre-readers will respond to picture messages, such as I ♥️ U
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  • If the school allows you to, go into the classroom with the child, and help introduce them to other children. Point out toys and activities your child likes in the classroom.
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  • At the end of the day, when you greet your child, talk about how it went, and how proud you are of how they handled the stress.


Middle school/High school

Unless you have moved recently, chances are your rising middle or high school student already knows other students at school. Although there may be less stress in this regard, other stresses may be present. Having friends, fitting in and discovering who you are begin in the tween to teen years. Some students want to “do it all”, leaving little time to decompress and relax. Other students struggle to fit in anywhere.  Ever-present social media posts can leave some students feeling that no matter what they do, others are more connected, happier, and more successful. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Be careful of over-scheduling. There is plenty of time in life to sample various activities, and a student in middle or high school is not well served by having little to no free time.  Try to have several times during the week and weekend where there is nothing scheduled.  Remember to schedule fun family activities, like movie night, apple picking, or a visit to a pumpkin patch.
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  • Beware of the effects of social media. While your child is a minor, it is perfectly OK to insist on having passwords to all devices and social media outlets. Occasional monitoring, especially when you are concerned, lets you know about social pressures present in your young person’s life so that you can talk it through and inject a dose of reality. Limit use of devices and game systems. It is much better for the developing brain and body to be active, and to be engaging in person with others.
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  • Pick your battles. Sometimes it’s not worth it to struggle over hair/clothing/jewelry styles, when your child is not doing well in school, or spending too much time in front of a screen. Focus on the things that most affect your child’s physical and mental wellness, and let the other things go. That hair style/color will be out of style before you know it.
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  • Note sudden extreme changes in behavior that may signal drug or alcohol use, or a developing mental health issue. Extreme mood changes, isolating behaviors, loss of interest in things that used to bring joy are all noteworthy things to pay attention to. Set aside time to talk to your child about what you are observing.  If you have any questions about whether or not to be concerned, speak to the school counselor or your family doctor. Do not ignore these signs.
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  • Be sure to praise your child for their honestly when you talk to them.  Validate the fact that socially, these are difficult years for everyone. Tell your child frequently that you love them in whatever way is comfortable for you. Let them know that you will do everything in your power to be there for them and support them as they find their way. And then follow through on that commitment.


College/University

  • Going away to school may be the first time your young adult has lived away from home. They may be going to a school where they don’t know anyone from their home town, and it is naturally disorienting for the first few days. Social media posts from their high school friends may produce feelings of longing and depression if it looks like those friends are having more success, are fitting in better, and are generally happier than your child. It’s a given that alcohol and drugs are widely available on college campuses, and your young adult may turn to these unhealthy choices to sooth feelings of sadness and general alienation.
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  • Prepare your young adult for what to expect by reading articles together. Your young person may know that the number of “likes” they get on a post compared to someone else has little actual significance, but they will benefit by having this reinforced.
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  • Talk about sexual assault on campus with your son or daughter. Make sure they understand how to avoid being a victim. Read articles together and discuss them.
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  • Talk about alcohol and drugs on campus, and help your child be prepared to deal with the unique social pressures common on college campuses. Read, together, about binge drinking and the risks it poses. If you are aware that your child already has established drinking habits, discuss these openly. 
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  • Make sure that your young person knows where to get help, particularly if they are far away from home. Your student should have the college campus counseling center and hotline within reach if they should need it. 
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  • Encourage your child to join clubs and other activities in line with their interests, or something they have never tried before. This can be a way to meet people outside of the dorm floor or classroom. 
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  • Throughout the various developmental stages, your child/young adult needs you, even if they tell you they don’t. While it is not advisable to “helicopter” around your child, which prevents growth and independence, it is important to stay in touch and be aware of what your child considers to be their major concerns, as well as their biggest joys.

Categories: For Patients