For many boys and girls, this is one of the best times of the year. For other students, it’s not that great. Mysterious stomachaches and headaches, an abundance of tears and drama, and sudden bouts of moodiness or belligerence can make back-to-school a particularly traumatic time.
Parents may contribute to that anxiety without realizing it. In an effort to create excitement about the new school year, they cause an already-nervous student to obsess about what’s ahead. And when that student shares his or her fears, attempts to brush off those concerns with responses like “Don’t worry, because everything is going to be all right” may worsen the tension.
A new school year is a transition process through which your child will learn new roles, new relationships, and a new set of expectations. And for children who have experienced trauma, that may be overwhelming.
Trauma is more common than most parents realize. We use that term to describe a broad range of experiences that even includes difficult pregnancies, rough deliveries, early hospitalizations, living with a family member who suffers from a mental illness or substance abuse, or being bullied. Brain scientists have discovered that experiences such as these fill the brain with excessive amounts of stress hormones. As children grow, the brain responds to other perceived threats it encounters by releasing the same stress hormones, sometimes leading children to behave in inappropriate and confusing ways.
Parents can take simple steps to reduce back-to-school stresses. Whenever possible, involve them in the process. If they’re attending a new school this year or moving to a new part of the school, take them for a tour. If the school offers some kind of meet-the-teacher event, bring them, because it’s a less intimidating way to start a new relationship.
Filling up the activity calendar before school starts isn’t wise. In fact, scheduling fewer activities as summer break comes to an end and making sure that the kids’ evenings aren’t packed during the first month or so will help them make the transition. Getting back into the school day routine can be exhausting, so let them set the pace and enjoy quiet time, especially over the weekends. Spend quiet moments reconnecting with them at home.
Most of all, relax. Your children will survive the start of school. So will you. If your child is really struggling with the return to the classroom, or if you start to notice anxiety or behavior that you haven’t seen before, it may be a good idea to have your child talk with one of our professional counselors. We’re accustomed to working with kids of all ages, and it’s often easier for an experienced professional to get to the bottom of what’s bothering them. We can also share strategies with you for help in managing their anxiety. Why not contact us today?
Brittany Smith is one of Care to Change’s licensed therapists. She focuses on helping young children and teens who have faced challenges find the guidance and support needed to become healthy adults. She is a trained TBRI practitioner and certified educator.