Helping Your Child Cope

As summer comes to an end, back-to-school shopping is in full swing. It’s an exciting time but for many children it comes with a fresh wave of anxiety, especially when it’s one of those transition years – Kindergarten to First Grade; Elementary to Middle School; or Middle School to High School. 

Parents need the tools to help children through what are sometimes called “developmentally salient anxieties” – the common worries and anxieties that accompany each major growth stage. 

Click here for some general strategies parents can use for making the transitions easier.

  • Plan Ahead. Start changing summer routines a week or two before the first day of school.
  • Go to School Several Times. Take advantage of back to school events that bring children into the school before it starts. Schedule a tour of the new school or a time to meet the new teacher in advance.
  • Make Yourself Available. Take advantage of your time together in the car or at bedtime to listen to your child’s concerns, questions or worries.
  • Problem-Solve Together. If your child has concerns it is better to take them seriously and look for solutions. Just reassuring may prevent the child from expressing their feelings again. Problem-solving together gives you the opportunity to coach your child on how to cope with (and interpret) both real and imagined scary situations. You will also be giving your child the tools he or she needs to cope with an unexpected situation that might arise.
  • Pay Attention to Your Own Behavior. Remember that worry is contagious.  We can either amplify or de-escalate a child’s anxiety, depending on our own internal reaction.  
  • Here’s a quick, enjoyable exercise for both parents and children: “Just Breathe” 

Try it together!

“If you see more significant or persistent anxieties, it is a good idea to take a deeper look,” says Project Harmony Director of Mental Health Services Joanna Halbur. “Sleep or appetite changes, mood changes, school refusal, or more intense emotional distress may call for some additional support from school or community mental health consultants or providers.”

Getting to the root of the problem is important to coming up with the right solution to ease back into school. Remember, children see their friends attending school and they want to be able to do that too. Some just need extra help to overcome their fears.