By Caitlin Winkler, PLPC
Backpack, check. School supply list, check. New clothes, check. Haircut, check. It’s that time of year. Saying good-bye to summer and hello to school is getting closer, if not already here, and you’ve checked (or almost checked) all the boxes on your to-do list. Each year we do our best to prepare our child for a new school year. Something we often fail to discuss is the need to be mentally and emotionally ready as well.
School brings a whole new set of trials each year. From academic challenges, teacher meetings, to tears over friendships, missing the bus, and the excitement of starting something new, this school year is bound to have its ups and downs. How can you help get ready for those tough times?
Five Tips to Prepare Mentally and Emotionally for the New School Year:
1. Meet physical needs first. If you can remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from Psychology class, basic physical needs are the foundation upon which everything else is built. It is hard to get up for the bus, be prepared for a test, and meet obligations at school if you’re not sleeping well, not getting adequate nutrition, and do not have a secure and safe place to live.
2. Talk to your child about their thoughts and feelings. You could ask: What are you looking forward to? What are you nervous about? What are you excited to learn? Who are you looking forward to meeting? What are some concerns you have? How will this year be different than last year? Your child may surprise you with his or her answers. Validate their feelings and listen to their concerns without passing judgment or minimizing their thoughts. It is important for them to feel heard and understood.
3. Be aware of your child's struggles. Does your child have test anxiety? Is making new friends scary or really hard? Does your child struggle with having positive behaviors at school? Think about your child's strengths and weaknesses. As parents, it can be easy to only want to see the great things about our child, but the reality is, our children are not perfect. Everyone struggles with something. Helping your child prepare, work through, and persevere through a challenge or limitation is so important. Connecting your child to resources, such as tutoring, social skills groups, and counseling can make a huge difference. Be proactive in reaching out for help.
4. Give them the power. Many people pass blame and fault to others. Even as adults, we do this. But, something so vital for our children to learn is the fact, "I can control myself- my behaviors, my thoughts, my attitude, my words." They have the power to control themselves and are ultimately responsible and accountable for their actions. Once they recognize and learn this, they can tackle any challenge thrown their way. They can handle a tough teacher, an argument with a friend, a low grade on an assignment, or not making the team. As children and as adults, we choose our thoughts, whether they are positive or negative, and our actions are born from those thoughts. Positive thinking leads to positive feelings and positive behaviors.
5. Prioritize your schedule. We often expect ourselves and our children to keep up a crazy, fast-paced schedule. Many children are exhausted not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well from the demands on our calendars. Cutting back on sports practices, extracurricular activities, and outside commitments may be necessary. Our children need time to just be kids- time without structure, time-lines, and expectations placed on them. Make time to play outside, laugh as a family, and have a night at home. This can make a huge difference in the mental and emotional well-being of your child.
Caitlin Winkler is a Provisionally Licensed Professional Counselor at Unlimited Potential Counseling & Education Center in O'Fallon. Caitlin is under the clinical supervision of Emily Kircher-Morris, LPC (MO #2012026754).