There are so many things to consider when preparing the family for a successful start to the new school year; from shopping for back-to-school clothes and supplies to coordinating carpools and scheduling after-school activities. But sometimes in the midst of the bombardment of back-to-school sales, it’s easy to overlook the anxieties that come along with saying goodbye to summer.
“The whole family undergoes a transition when children go back to school,” said Wendy Levin-Shaw, a licensed clinical therapist at Squirrel Hill Psychological Services (SHPS). “People get so caught up in the details of back-to-school mania that they sometimes don’t notice the emotions that come along with it–for all members of the family.”
Wendy works with parents and children at SHPS and says that children of all ages may have some reluctance and mixed feelings about returning to school. Those who are feeling exceptionally anxious may engage in unpleasant or inappropriate behaviors rather than express themselves in a constructive way. These behaviors may indicate there is an underlying emotion–anxiety, fearfulness or sadness–that needs to be addressed to ensure a child is happy and healthy throughout the school year.
Parents as well may feel a sense of sadness or anxiety at the approach of the new school year. For many, it means facing the fact that children are growing up and maturing faster than they imagined.
Most of the time, Wendy suggests parents can help their children–and each other–work through and communicate their feelings about going back to school by enlisting some of the following techniques. Doing so can help all members of the family look forward to the event.
- Conduct a “back-to-school” family discussion – As the new school year approaches, Wendy suggests that families use the end of summer as a focal point for discussion. “Sit down and discuss the transition from summer to the school year. Focus on what your children did and didn’t like about their summer break and what they’re looking forward to, or not looking forward to, during the new school year. Allow each family member to honestly and openly discuss any thoughts they have about going back to school,” she said. “Take the opportunity to make this a meaningful family ritual by having a special meal together at the dinner table or going out for a treat like ice cream.”
- Encourage ongoing communication – Wendy suggests that after an initial back-to-school discussion, families will benefit from frequent follow-ups as the school year progresses. “Ongoing, open communication is key to ensuring everyone in the family is satisfied with how the school year is going,” Wendy says. “It gives parents and children an opportunity to check in with each other and to make changes if something is not working.”
- Contact SHPS for support in aiding communication with your child – If you’ve tried communicating with your child or teen but still need assistance in guiding them through back-to-school anxieties or other difficulties, SHPS can help. We understand family dynamics and the unique needs of young and teen clients. Our therapists specialize in working with families with children and adolescents, and they can help your child overcome his or her challenges.
Whether it’s back-to-school time or other lifecycle transitions and crises, ongoing communication can help children, adolescents and their parents cope with life’s many challenges. Sometimes though, additional guidance is needed. SHPS is here to help. For more information about counseling options available at SHPS, please visit our website or call 412-521-3800.