Beth Hail, LCSW
Backpack? Check. Lunchbox? Check. Pencils and paper? Check.
Back-to-School time is here with the usual book and supply checklists for students. Beyond that ritual, I recommend parents have a different sort of checklist in mind as their children and teens get used to classroom life again. It’s really a check-in list to help manage a child’s total wellbeing.
We know that any change—good or bad—causes some level of anxiety among students, and a new school year is full of changing routines. Different teachers, alternating combinations of classmates, maybe a new building; it all breeds nervousness in kids that you as a parent can help keep in check.
You won’t be graded on this, but take notes—here are three areas to monitor as classes begin.
Social Situation – Be aware of your child’s social comfort level once the new school year is under way. Does he or she have any of the same teachers from previous grades that they particularly like? What friends—new and old—are in their classes? As a parent, you want your child to have healthy social engagement from the start and look forward to seeing someone every day. Without that connection, kids may already feel lost.
Emotional Expression – Tired of asking, “How was school?” and then settling for the answer, “Fine” or “Good?” Try approaching the topic from angles that lead your child to describe whatever excitements (or disappointments) they may be experiencing in the first days and weeks. New schedule, new topics of study, maybe a completely new school—there’s a lot to be processed and expressed there! Kids may roll their eyes, but keep showing your interest and be a welcoming destination for good conversation.
Physical Factors – If your child is in a new building this year, be sure he or she avoids undue stress by learning the physical layout before the bell rings on day one. Find out in advance where each class is located, how to get to the cafeteria and which hallway leads to the main office. If it’s uncool for mom or dad to show the ropes, a sibling or trusted neighborhood kid a few grades ahead may be able to help.
There’s also physical reconditioning that’s often necessary to prepare for being back in school. Encourage your child to reset sleeping habits days before classes start and set a plan for organizing homework and extracurricular activities back into the schedule. The sooner a routine returns, the better it is for everyone.
Keep checking that check-in list so your child starts the year off strong. If you want any guidance or added support along the way, Centerstone has child and family therapists in 250 schools and 20 outpatient locations throughout Middle Tennessee. We’re here to help at 888.291.4357 (HELP).
Beth Hail is Regional Vice President for Centerstone (www.centerstone.org), serving its central Tennessee region. She holds a master’s degree in social work and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Centerstone is a not-for-profit health care organization dedicated to delivering care that changes people’s lives.