The words “back to school” causes such a wide range of emotions for students. Children with healthy social skills and good academic standings may feel excitement; eager to see their friends and meet their teachers. For those who struggle socially or academically, instead they may have a sense of dread or anxiety. The new year could already be viewed as a disappointment when they assume they will fail another class, not be able to control their behaviors and be labeled as the ‘bad kid,’ or sit alone for another nine months at lunch. The challenges of academic ability, behaviors, and mental health all need different interventions, but they do all need met with understanding. Learning how to understand your child’s concerns of going back to school start with communication on the adult’s end.
Many guardians think, “I want to respect my kid wanting his space. If he wants to talk to me, he will.” There’s a precious, fine line of allowing children to learn self-regulating skills and being near to model appropriate coping. When too much time passes between check-ins, a new normal of distance is created between child and guardian. The child may think irrationally the guardian ‘doesn’t care’ or ‘won’t understand’ and the guardian begins believing their child wants nothing to do with them. Not letting the distance be created in the first place is encouraged, but there is always a plan B if you feel it’s already begun.
There are no ‘three strikes, you’re out’ when it comes to being rejected by your kid for a conversation. Now, being overbearing won’t make it any better, but making it a point to stay involved with your child’s life and interests will get noticed. Show up to your kids’ events, ask what they like about their friends, be curious on what level they’ve made it to in their favorite video games. Even if it’s watching their favorite show with them in silence, it’s connection. If you can take baby steps to get them talking to you about small things again, while you listen, maybe it will lead to the topics that really matter.
If you are aware your kid’s having heightened emotions about school, use questions that do not put thoughts into her mind. For example, “What do you think will be different about this school year?” or “How can this year be different than last?” vs. “What are you most worried about?” Go into the conversation with the goal to listen/connect and not teach/give advice.
Best of luck to all the kiddos and guardians on a successful year!
Rachel Hawkins, LISW-S
Rachel Hawkins, LISW-S, is a Social Worker Child & Adolescent Therapist who is staffed at Mansfield Senior High School. She has worked for Catalyst Life Services for six years. In that time, she has had the opportunity to provide therapy services, family therapy, school support, and parenting classes through Triple P Positive Parenting. Her current position allows her to connect students back to Catalyst who are in need of ongoing services and support communication between school staff and guardians.