Tips for a New School Year

Tips for Dealing with the Challenges of Going Back to School

Going back to school after a long summer filled with fun and freedom can be difficult. There are some difficulties that all children face when entering a new school year. The most common challenges include:

  • School Change such as attending a different school in a new town, moving from elementary to middle school, or from middle school to high school
  • Schedule Change such as early starts or late days due to extra-curricular activities or moving between multiple classes each day
  • Social Change such as meeting new peers and concerns about fitting in
  • Academic Change such as facing more homework and/or more difficult classes
  • General Unknowns such as meeting a new teacher or uncertainty about classroom locations.

For some children, the challenges of going back to school feel more daunting. Factors that make going back to school more difficult than is typical include:

  • Social issues such as not fitting in, difficulty finding and/or keeping friends, a history of being ostracized, bullied or picked on
  • Academic issues such as struggling with reading, writing, mathematics, or having a diagnosed learning disability
  • Medical issues that make accessibility challenging, impact the ability to attend school consistently, and that make the child appear or feel significantly different from peers
  • Behavioral and/or emotional issues such as anxiety, depression, oppositional defiance, autism or any diagnosable mental health condition
  • Family issues such as strained family relationships, divorce, financial problems, lack of adequate housing or general family instability

Any of the factors above can combine with the normal stresses of going back to school to make for a very difficult experience for a child. For children with multiple factors interacting with the normal challenges, returning to school can feel like a truly scary event. When this is the case, it is not uncommon to see an exacerbation of social, academic, emotional and behavioral problems.  At times, this exacerbation can be significant enough to make regular daily functioning difficult. Children’s grades may slip into unacceptable territory. School personnel may provide feedback to parents that they are concerned with the child’s social skills, emotionality, or difficulty regulating behavior. The child may withdraw or act out more at home, express anxiety about going to school, or simply refuse to go to school at all. However, there are a number of things parents can do to help.

  • Remind the child that they are not alone and, as parents, you are there to support them.
  • Parents can also share their experiences of going back to school. Parents can express that they were nervous as well and share what they did to cope with those feelings.
  • Parents can engage in active problem solving with children. Find time to sit down, discuss the issues, and together, develop a plan of action. Once a plan is developed it can be helpful to practice it several times, so the child is prepared to implement the plan when going back to school.
  • Develop a routine around the school day and week. Providing clear, predictable, consistent structure helps reduce anxiety by increasing the child’s sense of control and reducing uncertainty.
  • Spend plenty of time talking about what they can expect when returning to school and give them an opportunity to talk about their fears and concerns.
  • Encourage participation in activities and/or school clubs that give them an opportunity to be surrounded with children who share interests or hobbies.
  • Whenever possible, visit the school and attend orientation and open house opportunities. This allows the child to begin to develop familiarity and comfort with the school and the school personnel who will be an important part of daily life.
  • Help the child set realistic expectations about academic, social and extracurricular goals. Highlight their unique talents and encourage exploration of activities, both in school and out, that build on those talents and support the development of healthy self-esteem.

Sometimes, even with the best efforts of parents, the difficulties are too much to overcome without the help of a professional. When that is the case a licensed psychologist can help both the parents and children develop more effective coping and problem-solving strategies to effectively address the challenges and improve the daily functioning of the child.

Garrison Psychology and Counseling is here to help. To request an appointment click here

Lance GarrisonComment