Help Your Child Settle into the New School Year
Starting school involves many changes for your child including new schools, teachers, classmates, routines, and school work. These changes can cause feelings of anxiety, sadness, or anger, resulting in changes in their mood or behavior. It’s sometimes easier to spot these behavioral changes in older kids. It may be more difficult to spot these changes in young children as it is harder for them to express the way they are feeling. For instance, younger children might have a more difficult time separating from parents, while older children might be grumpier or seem annoyed.
"Anticipate that your child may feel stressed and anxious about school and talk to them about new experiences that they may face. Children at every age will have positive and negative experiences. It is more helpful to teach your children how to deal with those negative experiences and solve problems in an effective way when they arise, because they will," said BMC's Lovern R. Moseley, PhD, Licensed Psychologist. "While school plays an important role in kids’ social development, their home life is also important in shaping how they handle difficulties and new experiences. Over time, the transition to the new school year should become easier. If your child has continued difficulty adjusting to the routine, something more serious may be going on."
Pay attention to their peer interactions. While most kids at all grade levels have heard about bullying and can say that bullying is wrong and harmful, bullying in many forms still exists within our children’s schools. For some, difficulty settling into the new school year could be because they don’t feel safe in their school setting. For students across all grade levels there is lot of pressure to make friends and fit in; this can result in some students feeling left out or targeted. In addition to negative schoolyard or classroom interactions, access to social media has opened up the world of “cyberbullying,” which often results in a more chronic and insidious attack that requires careful intervention. Communicate with your child’s teacher to determine how they are fitting in. It’s important to understand the culture of the classroom and school so that you can help your child adjust in the healthiest way possible.
Learning difficulties can also play a significant role in your child’s adjustment to school. Be aware of how your child is managing the work load as well as whether they understand the work being assigned. Have your child talk you through their assignments: this will help you know whether they fully grasp the concepts. In addition to speaking with their teacher about their performance, consider arranging tutoring if your child is having difficulty academically. You may also request for special education testing in order to rule out a learning disability. Your child might be eligible for accommodations to improve their academic performance.
Establish daily routines and stick to them. Children do far better with structure and routines. Bedtimes should remain consistent during the week as well as on the weekends. Children should get up to 10-12 hours of sleep at night if possible. Routines and structure also contribute to a smoother running of the household; it is better when everyone knows what to expect. Work with your child on improving and maintaining organization by checking backpacks, sorting assignments and placing them back into their respective folders. Maintaining a calendar to keep abreast of upcoming assignments and projects is also helpful. These small tasks will help minimize frustration and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.
Be mindful of any recent or significant changes in the child’s life. The separation of parents, the loss of a loved one, major accidents, or medical concerns in a family can also impact a child’s adjustment to the school year. Parents should be aware of the impact of the environment on their child’s adjustment and academic performance. Efforts to maintain a safe environment in the home will help to improve your child’s functioning.
While some kids may just be feeling bummed that summer is over, others may be suffering from something more serious. The following are a few signs parents should pay attention to in order to determine next steps to help their child:
- Clinginess and not wanting to leave your side
- Withdrawal or isolation, not wanting to participate in family activities
- Distracted or disengaged
- Lack of interest in things they used to enjoy
- Refusing to follow rules
- Feeling anxious, worried, or sad
- Increase in tantrums and crying
- Bed wetting
- Changes in sleep (difficulty falling or staying asleep, excessive sleep)
- Aggressive behaviors such as hitting and shouting
- Not completing assignments, decline in grades
- Significant change in their peer group
- Appetite changes
- Thoughts of wanting to hurt themselves
- Risk taking behavior
Above all, always keep the communication lines open; ask your child how they are feeling, and listen to their answers.
If you are concerned about your child’s behavior or if they are having a lot of difficulty with the transition of starting school, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. You can reach out to the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department at Boston Medical Center to request an evaluation by calling our intake line at 617-414-4561 or visit bmc.org/psychiatry for more information.