Kids aren’t the only ones who get anxious about the school year starting up again. Here are a few ways to help prepare your teens for the first day of school without adding to their worries.
1. Get back into the school-time swing
Your kids may want to make the most of their final summer hours but encourage them to get back into the school-day routine. Begin the day at a reasonable hour and with a healthy meal. End the day at a reasonable hour too. Advocate self-care. Establishing a consistent routine ahead of time will help the transition feel not so jarring. Plus, an irregular sleep schedule and a spotty diet can exacerbate anxiety in an already anxious time.
2. Prepare for what you can
There is confidence in knowing your surroundings, even if it’s just knowing the little things. So help your kids master their schoolyard terrain. Consider scheduling a walking tour of the building and grounds before the first day. They may find it comforting to locate their classes, the bathrooms, the cafeteria, which gym is Gym A and which is Gym B. Let them plan their routes. Conquer the small stuff first. If we get anxious about the unknown, then let’s know what we can.
Getting prepared for the first day back can be exciting too. You might schedule an appointment for your teen to get a new haircut. Or maybe your teen may want to assemble a snazzy new outfit. Maybe a new backpack is in the works or a crisp new binder. Push them to find satisfaction and confidence in their composure.
3. Encourage positive thinking
Positive thinking requires diligent, regular effort, and that’s where you can help. Think of yourself like a set of bumpers at the bowling alley -keep your kids from careening around in that gutter of negative thinking. Be deliberate. Try asking your kids to come up with three things they’re looking forward to. This may be about the first day, the week, the year. Maybe it’s that cafeteria meal that looks funky but actually tastes pretty ok, or maybe something they want to learn about, or who they’re excited to see, or even the joy of the year’s first three-day weekend. Then tomorrow find three more things, and three more things after that. Take inventory of all the small things that are otherwise easy to overlook.
4. Don’t project anxiety
Your kids will take cues from your attitude, so be mindful of your own feelings and presence too. Project calmness and reassurance. Conversations about back-to-school anxiety can be short and casual, while you wait in line at the store, or as you’re filling the car at the station, or as you’re already halfway up the stairs.
Try not to ask questions that presuppose anxiety. You may just catch what you’re fishing for. For instance, instead of asking if there are any classes they’re anxious about, ask which classes are they most curious about. Draw their attention to all the exciting possibilities, not the hurdles. Practice being hopeful with them.
5. Acknowledge their concerns
Instead of telling your kids not to worry, and that everything will work out, try helping them think through their concerns. What exactly are they worried about? What’s the worst-case scenario? Lead them through the possible outcomes. Help them see that it’s not the end of the world. If they’re worried about something going wrong, ask them what would happen if it did. And then what? And then what? If Algebra is really hard, then you’ll study extra hard. If it’s still too hard, you’ll ask the teacher for outside help. If it’s still hard, we can find a tutor or a study group. If it’s still too hard, you can switch to a different math class, and that will be fine too! Provide them with strategies for coping and with perspective at the same time.
6. Find healthy outlets
Whether it’s playing basketball or guitar, or whether it’s sketching or writing poems, practicing chess or Jiu Jitsu, hobbies can help reduce anxiety in a number of ways. Building new talents, in turn, builds confidence. Practice occupies the mind and redirects nervous energy. Encourage your kids to join clubs, leagues, societies, after-school groups or whatever it may be. Show them how to take ownership of their learning and how to value their passion.
And don’t forget to express interest in their interests! Even if they decide to learn the French horn, keep cheering them on (but maybe remember to apologize to the neighbors also).
7. Share your experiences
You’ve been there before too, and it will help your kids to know so. If you want your kids to be honest about their own struggles and joys, guide them by example. Tell them about your own moments of anxiety or loneliness. Show them that they are in good company. Be generous with your inner life. Sometimes offering up your own experience is the best way to engage your kids in an honest conversation about their lives.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or struggling with thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). Or chat with someone online by going to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
In crisis? You can text HOME to 741741 to talk with a trained Crisis Counselor for free, 24/7. For more information check out www.crisistextline.org
If you are a teen, or know a teen, who needs to speak to another teen listener, please contact the LA Teen Line at 310-855-4673, or www.teenlineonline.org