The first few weeks of school are an emotionally trying time for nearly all students. A change of routine, new teachers, having different or no friends in class, fear of not fitting in or even being bullied can cause anxiety for many kids and parents. Some short-term nerves and anxiety can be normal. But, anxiety that lingers, worsens or begins to impact one’s emotional or physical well-being needs to be addressed.
Below, are a few common scenarios that can cause school-related anxiety, as well as ways that parents can address to help their child more confidently start the new school year.
Transitioning from Elementary to Middle School
Being promoted from elementary to middle school is a big milestone that can be exciting, scary and nerve-wracking all at the same time. Coupled with the fact that kids this age are also in the midst of puberty, many middle schoolers are affected by friendship changes, social identity conflicts and bullying.
Although your tween is likely to start spending more time on his own or with his friends, it’s important that you find opportunities to connect with your child so that you can help him address any issues, concerns or fears before they escalate into bigger issues. Help your child prepare for middle school by asking open-ended questions, listening and exercising empathy. Empower your child to address any fears or concerns through role-play, open communication and engagement. Once school starts, continue to check-in with your child on a regular basis.
When you see your tween grow up, it can be hard to decide how much you want to intervene when he’s facing problems. Click here to learn about the unique challenges of middle school bullying and how to address them.
Transitioning from Middle to High School
Starting high school creates another new chapter for your teen. By the time that most teens move on to high school, they have already experienced feeling like the “small fish in the big pond” and facing the scary, unknown from when they transitioned from elementary to middle school. While nearly all teens face some trepidation about this next transition, some will be worse than others – especially those who had a negative or traumatic experience in middle school.
You can help ease your teen’s fears by giving her the opportunity to share how she is feeling. Empathize by asking open-ended questions, which allow dialogue between you and your teen. Whether your teen’s anxiety stems from the fact that she’s getting ready to enter the unknown or if she’s concerned about negative middle school experiences following her into high school, empower her to take control of the situation by creating “plans of action” for the potential situations that concern her. For example, if your daughter is shy and concerned about not having friends in her class, you may want to role play with her on how she may be able to use time during or after classes to build relationships with other students. Finally, be sure to have ongoing engagement with your teen once the school year begins. Regularly check in with her and continue to ask open-ended questions to find out how she is doing.
The Eighth Grade movie (now showing at most theaters) does a good job of demonstrating the issues and emotions that teens this age face as they prepare to enter high school. Click here for more information on what The Eighth Grade movie is about and who should watch it.
Moving or Transferring to a New School
Starting a new school due to a move or transfer can present similar challenges, anxiety and fears as transitioning to middle or high school. The biggest difference is that your child may likely not have any friends that attend the same school.
You can help lessen your child’s anxiety and help her gain control over her fears by using empathy, empowerment and engagement in a similar way as you would if she was transitioning to middle or high school. Coach your child on positive self-talk to help her gain confidence and connect her to clubs or extracurricular activities to help her meet peers that share similar interests.
It’s not uncommon for even kids that are normally confident to experience low self-esteem when transitioning to a new school. Click here to learn more ways on how you can help increase your child’s confidence as she starts a new school.
Starting the School Year After Being Bullied
If your child has been previously bullied and/or is concerned about being bullied during the upcoming school year, I recommend using a framework I use in my therapy practice and have detailed in The Empowered Child book. I call it The Three E’s (Empathy, Empowerment and Engagement).
Click here for more details on The Three E’s and sample dialogues that can be used to help address back-to-school bullying.
Starting the New School Year
Empathy, empowerment and engagement can help your child more confidently start the new school year. The Empowered Child book provides more information and examples of how you can use The Three E’s to help your child address bullying and other issues. If your child experiences anxiety or depression that does not go away, it’s important to seek professional help. I am always available for assistance and you can click here if you’d like to schedule a complimentary 30-minute phone consultation.
About the Author:
Danielle Matthew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who treats bully victims and their families and educates schools, medical professionals and the community about the bullying epidemic. With over 20 years of experience, Danielle authored Amazon Parenting Best-Seller, The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying, and is the Director of The Empowerment Space Bullying Therapy Program in Los Angeles. Featured in Huffington Post and TODAY.com, Danielle has appeared on FOX, ABC and CBS Morning Shows and Mom Talk Radio.