Four Suggestions for a Good Start to the New School Year
By Dr Tara Seward, LCP
As a country we have been faced with many challenging events and difficult decisions over the past few months. The most recent of those challenging decisions involves school for the up-coming academic year. As a parent of children in elementary, middle, and high school, I can appreciate all the energy you put into making your decision.
When it comes to our children, it is easy to become emotional because we love them dearly and want to provide them with the best of opportunities. In all the uncertainty of these current times, many people have become worried about how to best provide for their child’s academic needs. Every family must evaluate their current situation and make the best decision for their family. My goal here is to help you execute whatever plan you and your family have for the coming academic year.
So here goes,
- Be careful about the language you use to talk about the upcoming school year.
Now, to be clear, I am not talking about the rated R language. When we are anxious or frustrated, we are more likely to use rigid, catastrophic, and global language. This is psychologist-speak for language that focuses on no-win situations, worst-case scenarios, and encompassing everything. The bottom line is that these types of patterns keep us stuck and fuel anxiety. When we use this type of language around our children, it actually encourages them to worry. Children that are more prone to anxiety have an increased vulnerability to adopt these patterns that can blossom into an anxiety disorder. Instead of saying, “This next school year is going to be a disaster, and nobody is going to learn anything”. I would recommend explaining to your child that this next year is going to be different than your previous school years. There are parts of the coming school year that we know and parts that we don’t know, yet. This new school set-up is going to give us an opportunity to be flexible and possibly learn some new things about ourselves.
- Be careful not to dismiss your children’s concerns or fears about the upcoming school year.
In other words, don’t tell them not to worry or everything is going to be fine. Everything will be fine, and we will adjust and adapt but to tell your children not to worry usually makes them worry more. Be sure to acknowledge their concern and ask what caused them to have that concern. Sometimes their fears are things we can educate them about and provide accurate information to alleviate their fear. Other times, we may have to acknowledge that what they are afraid of is a possibility and the steps we are taking to minimize that possibility. Lastly, we may have to admit that the thing they are afraid of is not known and how hard it is to sit in the uncertainty of not knowing. You may be able to provide some examples of when you were uncertain and how you tolerated that uncomfortable feeling.
- As we continue to move into this next phase of transition, it is important to remember to be kind to yourself and those around you.
Everyone, including your children, are doing the best they can under unusual circumstances. No matter what school decision your family makes, be excited about it - at least in front of your children. If you seem stressed and worried, they will pick up on that vibe and make it their own. If you express excitement and eagerness to explore this new phase, they will be more open as well.
- Be creative.
Often times, worry and stress create a sense of tunnel vision which interferes with our problem-solving abilities. I have been so impressed with the creativity that many families have already demonstrated regarding the upcoming school year. For example, some families are partnering with one or two other families and trading homes to meet up and complete their school lessons together. The children don’t have to be identical ages/grades in order to support each other. In fact, having different grades work together can help older children review concepts when they are helping younger children.
I know parents are weary from the extra demands being placed on them along with the concerns about their children’s educational progress. There are no easy answers but avoid projecting your thoughts too far into the future – worry loves to hang out there. If we spend too much time focusing on the distant future, we miss the opportunities in this moment. I encourage you to focus on the next step you need to take and taking that step with as much optimism and energy as you can muster.