There are two kinds of parents when school starts: one says, “Yay Ho, school has started” and the other says, “Boo Ho, school has started”. Your child’s reaction is almost universal with combination of “Oh no work again” mixed with “Yay I get to see my friends again” and topped off with “Eek what if…” Still the end of summer is here and the beginning of a new school year presses on with force. If you are emotional with either excitement or disappointment at the start of school, imagine how your child feels.
The thing about a child’s emotions is that they don’t always come out in the most expected way. For instance a nervous child starting school may appear to be more aggressive towards their siblings or you instead of showing anxiety. Your child may not even realize what is going on inside or be able to give it a name but their behavior which is different from normal clearly shows that something is amiss. So what is the best way to handle the start of a new school year? Too many times parents believe that shopping for stuff for school is one of the ways to deal with the anxiety but it is not. Shopping to calm anxiety only contributes to a problem later which sadly can turn into a shopping addiction as an adult. But there is a better way.
Mark the end. The start of school is the end of summer so mark the event by doing something with the family the weekend prior. It can be nearly anything or a combination of small things just so long as the family is together doing something that is mutually pleasing. Some ideas are spending a day at the beach, taking a bike ride, watching a favorite movie, or having a family cook-out. Again it does not have to be anything outlandish just something that indicates to your child that things will remain normal. One of the natural concerns for a child is the fear that everything is going to be different in some manner this year and they will not be able to handle whatever it is. By participating in a normal family activity, your child will rest in knowing that some things will not change.
Don’t bug them. Even though you may know they are nervous about school starting, don’t bug them about it or force them to talk about it. Rather allow them to talk about it in their own time even it if means waking you up in the middle of the night. But let them talk. This is not a time for a lecture, for minimizing what they are feeling, or for talking about you; this is a time to listen to them about their concerns. What you child needs to know now is that you care about what they are feeling and you are available to listen to them when they are troubled. They want to know that what they are feeling is normal and if you assume what they are feeling instead of listen to what they are feeling, you just might miss an opportunity to connect emotionally with your child.
Be encouraging. It is always hard to encourage a child that does not want to be encouraged but that does not mean you should not do it anyway. Just because your child does not receive the positive encouragement well and acts negatively in response does not relieve you from the responsibility to encourage them. At some level it will sink in even if they are resistant and angry at first. This is just one of those times when you need to be the adult and give your child what they need instead of what they ask for just like you did when they were little and wanted a cookie before dinner. Remember you said, “Dinner first and then the cookie”. So, encourage first instead of disciplining their resistant and negative behavior. A demonstration of grace and understanding will far outweigh any benefits of discipline in this moment.
Put your emotions in check over the next few days and make it less about how you are feeling about school starting and more about how your child is feeling about school starting. If you don’t, then your child will likely pick up on your emotion and project that to you instead of focusing on their emotions. Instead they will suppress their emotions for your more dominant and safe emotion. This is dangerous because eventually their emotions will come out like an explosion and you will quickly discover a whole other set of problems as a result. So if you are excited or disappointed about school starting, share it with your spouse not your child.
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