It’s that time of year again: the backpacks are fresh and full of brand new pencils, paper and notebooks. My kid’s hair is actually combed and styled with gel every morning. The teacher’s are smiling and drop off feels exciting and dare I say, fun?!
Give it a few weeks and just like most other kids and parents, we will be scrambling to grab things as we stumble out the door tired, rushed and sometimes, even irritable. School can be tough. Your kid is trying to organize every project, remember the deadlines and navigate difficult things like rocky social relationships, tense peer pressure and settling in to who they are and want to be as a person. Not to mention sometimes weird and painful growth spurts, a dash of crushed dreams (“that boy doesn’t want to go to the dance with me, I got cut from football, I didn’t get high enough scores to even TRY applying to my dream school” – any of this ring a bell?!).
Feeling anxious or depressed definitely wasn’t on your students bucket list this year, but they may find these feelings creeping up throughout different seasons of their school experience. I’m here to tell you two things: 1. It’s totally normal and 2. It’s definitely navigable.
Here’s the short list of what your child or teen needs from you.
- Set aside quality time to communicate with them. Get on their level, whatever that looks like. For an elementary age kid, literally go in their room, pick up their favorite set of toys, sit down on the floor and get down to their eye level. For your teen, find something they love to do and you can connect over. Take them to the beach, pick up a guitar and strum along with them, ride your bikes or go on a jog together. When they are comfortable in their environment (and let’s be honest, when they see the effort you are making to get comfortable in their world) they will listen and they will open up. It’s also totally okay if your kid or teen shuts you out. Speak anyway. Come from a place of love and calm. Remind them that you are here to listen whenever they need it. Reassure them that talking to you is safe. Let them know that they can come to your first, without judgment or shame. Trust me, you want to be the space they come to. Too often, kids and teens wind up confiding in unreliable sources on the internet or in their peer groups. When you set up a safe environment where they come to you first, you have the upper hand of making sure that they are getting honest, reliable information and resources. It’s okay if you feel like what they are saying is scary for you to hear, just take that deep breath and listen. Remind yourself, “we can figure out the details and find solutions later, right now my kid just needs an ear”.
- Validate their emotions. Remind your child that it’s okay to feel however they are feeling about the start of the school year. Heck, I’d like to take this time to remind you that it’s okay to feel however you are feeling about this school year. It’s okay for those feelings to shift and change in their intensity as well. It’s normal for your teen or kid to be feeling anxious, angry, excited, nervous, sad, hopeful. It’s totally acceptable for them to feel all of these emotions in the span of a 2 hour period. Transitions are tricky. They bring forward a wide variety of emotions within us. There is no wrong or right way to feel about all of the adjustments a new school year brings about.
- Affirm your child’s strengths. Take a minute to remind your student, “these are your strengths and they are what I really love about you”. Whether it be in a short note, text message or face to face. Our children need to hear from us about the characteristics we love and value in them. Believe it or not, our opinion of who they are is EXTREMELY important to them. It sets the stage for how their self worth and esteem is solidified. Don’t just point out run of the mill traits but find ones unique to them. And definitely don’t sugar coat the message and throw in strengths your kid or teen doesn’t really have, they’ll see right through that and it will make your message feel unreliable. Maybe they have a sense of wonder that excites you, maybe they’re willing to take risks like trying a new instrument or sport you never had the guts to try, maybe they have a huge heart for other people and you’ve seen them take time to say good morning to the kid sitting alone on the curb. Find these quirks in your kid or teen and point them out often. Not only does your child need to hear that these things are cool about them (it’s tough to be different), but your pointing these strengths out will also encourage your student to take these positive risks more often.
- Reassure your student. It’s okay to be honest with them. Life is tough. Not everything goes the way we want. Not everyone is nice. Not everyday is a good day. And all of that is okay. Often times, when we fall flat on our face is when we learn the most about who we are, but we have to be willing to try to stand back up when we fall. Remind them that its okay to make mistakes. Perfection is unattainable. Some of the greatest inventions came from many failed trials. Even Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed, I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.
- Let them know that you’re in their corner. Our family rule of thumb goes like this, “we can figure anything out together: as long as we all tell the truth and we each show up to work through it as a team”. Let your child know, no matter how impossible or ‘bad’ it seems, you can help them figure it out. Remind them that you are their biggest support. Often times, kids hold things back for the simple fear of not knowing what the outcome or consequence would be. They feel scared and judged before they can even think about getting the support they need to solve a problem. Unfortunately, this usually holds them back from getting support and what was originally a small and easily navigable problem becomes a huge explosive issue by the time you are included in it. When a kid or teen has a safe parent to include in their decisions, a parent who approaches things calmly and logistically without judgment or shame, that child is immediately safer. They make decisions more slowly, they include this parent in their decision making and they are significantly less susceptible to peer pressure.
- Have fun. Invite your child out for an adventure. Let them see the importance of balancing hard work with great fun. Surprise them by picking them up early one day, or grabbing ice cream on the way home for absolutely no reason. Stop at a park. Go to the beach. Head out together on a hike. Break the darn routine every once in a while. Help them connect to healthy, safe and fun activities as often as possible. This helps them to learn how to maximize joy in their everyday routines and gives them a platform for taking safe risks in their life. Teens and kids who are more engaged in fun, sporadic activities are less impulsive (in destructive ways) and less likely to take unhealthy risks like trying drugs or other dangerous activities.
Here’s wishing you and your family a wonderful school year ahead. May every morning and school day be perfectly smooth and positive. And since we all acknowledge that that is completely unrealistic, remember this: you can get through today. The stress will wax and wane, there will be tough decisions to be made and you or your student may find yourselves wishing for do-overs. School can be tough. You’re certainly not alone in this. Ask for supports when needed and help your teen or child to plug in to the things that help give them purpose, drive and joy. If you notice your teen is needing more support, is experiencing depressed moods, anxiety or any troubling behaviors, don’t hesitate to reach out and speak to me at (805)774-1449 for more support.