Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How To Plan For A Great New School Year

Many children, adolescents, and their parents begin the new school year with mixed emotions. The excitement and anticipation of all the new opportunities to learn, grow, and develop can be tainted by previous experiences that have not been positive. Starting a new school year in and of itself for many parents, children, and teens creates anxiety and stress. Adopted and foster children and youth may be more sensitive to this change by virtue of their previous experiences and because they typically struggle with transitions. Additionally, if they have had difficulties with their academic studies and peer relationships, they may feel even more overwhelmed knowing the new school year is approaching. With an increase in anxiety, children and adolescents may display regressive behavior. Preparing them with as much information as possible, but not overwhelming them, can be a difficult task for parents to balance.

{image via creative commons: @jamiesrabbits}

With the many changes a new school year can bring — new classes, new teachers, new classmates, and new rules and expectations — it is important that parents provide support to children and teens in order to lessen their fears. There may also be additional stressors, such as having different types of classes (i.e. dressing out in PE), having to learn how to switch classes, or having changes in the types of school activities. For children and adolescents who struggle with transition this can be especially challenging. Part of how we go about supporting our children varies upon the age of the child and the anticipated changes the new school year will bring. As we look at the ways to support them, it can be helpful to review previous school years and determine where our children struggled and what helped them through those difficult situations. We are then able to look ahead and use our previous experiences, anticipate problems, and develop a plan to resolve those situations.

For most of us, just knowing what is going to happen and being prepared can decrease our anxiety and help us feel more positive overall. Below are a few lists of ideas that can help. Remember preparation is the key for a successful school year.

How to help decrease anxiety:
  • Visit the school. Open houses are great ways to meet teachers and keep parents informed. The more time you spend at school informally, the more the school will become a familiar place to your child.
  • Walk or ride the walking/bus route with your child so he will know the route.
  • Review and practice with your child what he can do in stressful situations at school (i.e. if he lost lunch money, forgot his locker combination, lost his class schedule, etc.).
  • Focus on the positive.
  • Make the first day of school special.

Getting organized for the school year: 
  • Begin adjusting your child’s sleep schedule progressively about 2 weeks before school starts. 
  • Begin developing a plan and routine. This will provide structure to get through those chaotic mornings and dinner hours. 
  • Together, set a family schedule so everyone knows what to expect. It can be helpful to include times for special activities, homework, extracurricular activity practices, chores, personal hygiene, and family fun.
  • Have a family meeting weekly to review the schedule for the upcoming week. 
  • Set out clothes, school materials, etc. for the next day the night before. This can decrease morning chaos and be a real time saver!  

Debra Fredenburg, LCSW APAC Region III, Coordinator