Editor’s note: It’s time for kids to head back to school, a time that can be as stressful for parents as it is for students. We asked high school guidance counselor Sara Eden for some advice to share with parents as the school year begins.
By Sara Eden
As a parent, you may be contemplating the upcoming school year with mixed emotions.
Maybe you are ready for some healthy time apart from your child. Perhaps you are mourning the loss of free time as a family. You may feel anxious when you think about getting back into carpools and the flurry of afternoon activities that come with the school year.
So, my first bit of advice is to empathize with your child. Our kids are feeling the same range of emotions, more intensely, and have less experience managing them.
It’s natural to struggle with transitions, so tolerate some ambivalence from your child about the new school year. If your child doesn’t “hit the ground running,” there is no need to jump to conclusions based on behaviors you see in the first couple weeks of school. Give him or her (and yourselves!) a little time to adjust.
That being said, as parents, you can help ease your child back into a routine. For many children, though they resist at first, the structure of the school year is comfortable for them.
So whether it’s family dinners or earlier bedtimes, start trying to integrate some of the school year routine back into your children’s lives. Depending on your child, you may be able to exert some influence over his or her bedtime to help with the adjustment. However, with a lot of teens, you may have to watch them walk zombie-like out of the house during those first couple of weeks until they self-impose an earlier bedtime.
Parents can help children realize that they need the healthy meals at home, and more consistent exercise and sleeping habits that come with the school year to perform their best and to combat any stress they may face.
As a parent, you may feel the need to have a conversation with your child about his or her goals for the upcoming year. In the workplace, a goal-setting conversation may serve to motivate and focus an employee, but the majority of teenagers will shut down as soon as they hear “So, what are your goals for this year?” Instead, initiate informal conversations with your children about what they are looking forward to in all areas of school life: academic, social and extracurricular.
Reconnecting with friends is a huge motivator for teens as they contemplate going back to school. Help your children focus on the positive aspects of the new year: new opportunities to get involved, new privileges, new friends. Reassure them that you are there to help if help is needed. Above all else, leave your agenda for your child’s school year out of the conversation, and focus on his or her thoughts and concerns.
Getting kids excited or motivated to go back to school is a tough job for a parent. I would argue that it is almost impossible, as motivation really can’t be given. Instead, help your children embrace the responsibility of being a student. Be tolerant of their mixed emotions and behaviors as the new year begins, establish healthy routines, and emphasize the positive aspects of school life.
Ultimately, you are in this together, working your way through one of life’s many transitions, and your modeling and guidance will help your child face future life changes down the road. Good luck, and welcome back to school!
Sara Eden is a licensed clinical social worker and the upper school guidance counselor at Pace Academy.