Depending on a child’s personality and a variety of factors, back-to-school can be an exciting time full of smiles and anticipation or an overwhelming time marked by new challenges and changes. This is true for parents, too. While it might feel like your job to help your child solve each new problem that comes up, the best thing you can do for your child is to listen and take it one day at a time. Giving them a chance to process their emotions and validating them without overreacting or jumping to the rescue will provide them with skills that will serve them later in life.
Change and transitions can be difficult, but they also create new opportunities. As your child goes back to school, getting into the mindset that you are a supporter and listener will help your child identify these opportunities and make the most of them. This can be tricky, though, and not the automatic reaction of a parent. When your child says, “My best friend is not in my class” or “I miss my teacher from last year,” often our instinct is to help our child solve the problem by saying “You’ll make new friends” or “This teacher is so fantastic!” Chances are your child knows these things, but that doesn’t change their emotions, and they are coming to you for support, not to have those feelings minimized. By nodding or saying, “I understand,” without offering advice or solutions, our children know that their feelings matter. In times of transition, this is particularly important.
While back-to-school season can bring up emotions in children, it can do the same for parents who are also going from the less structured days of summer to a routine full of time management and activities. Many parents look forward to this, and children and families tend to thrive with the balance of structure and independence that school provides. The transition still exists, though, and while it can feel sudden, it helps to remember that a slow and steady approach can be beneficial to everyone in the family. Take it one day at a time, with small to-do lists and regular check-ins. Fall can be a time of uncertainty for everyone, and by creating small goals and managing tasks in a productive way, you are demonstrating problem-solving and life skills for your child.
Lastly, in this time of transition, it is okay to ask questions and make mistakes. You can model this for your children, too. Creating an environment where we work together and support each other in the classroom and at home is what makes a strong community. When children can express their feelings, whether they are nervous or excited, and they feel supported to try new things, they will feel safe to take risks, learn and grow.