Starting a new school year is both exciting and frightening. Thoughts of new teachers and a heavier workload, navigating new friend groups – all with changing bodies and hormones, can be a cause of concern for your child.
What can parents do to ease their child’s fears and prepare them for success as they approach the next milestone in their academic life? Research shows that kids are most worried about three aspects of moving to middle and high school: logistical, academic, and social. How will they find their classroom, or be able to open their locker? Will their schoolwork be too difficult? Will they have to eat lunch alone?
With good planning and lots of empathy, parents can help ease this transition. Here are a few tips for helping your child adjust.
Attend School Orientations
Most schools have orientations for both students and parents. This is an opportunity to visit the school and become familiar with the campus, meet teachers and administrators, and find out about available resources should your child need them. It’s also a great opportunity to find their locker and practice opening it, learn where the cafeteria and bathrooms are located, and the little things your child is likely worried about.
Back to School Planning
Have your child participate in back-to-school planning. This might include shopping for backpacks and school supplies, buying new clothes or shoes for school, checking the school schedule online, and planning out a homework station. Having everything they need before the new school year begins will help them feel less anxious.
Most schools use an online portal such as Canvas to communicate. Sign up for Canvas and download the app to see your student’s grade and see what assignments are coming up. Remember, teachers have a pretty heavy workload, so don’t expect every grade to be updated daily but make a habit of checking your student’s grade weekly so there aren’t any surprises. Contact teachers if you have questions, through the Canvas app. Parents and teachers are a team committed to seeing your student succeed so don’t be afraid to reach out.
Many schools also provide a planner to keep track of assignments and plan their time. Encourage your student to become familiar with using the planner as well as the online school communication system. Laguna Beach schools also use ParentSquare a parent communication tool providing a simple way for everyone at school to connect. With ParentSquare you’ll be able to receive school and classroom communication, view the school and classroom calendar and RSVP for events and volunteer.
Figure Out Transportation
Will your child walk to school, take a bus, ride a bike or in a car? Whatever mode of transportation they use, make sure they get to school on time. Being late—especially being chronically late—can wreak havoc on their school life and be a cause of disciplinary action.
Manage Social Anxiety
Encourage your child to join sports teams, clubs, or extracurricular activities. Talk about social skills and traits that make a good friend. Practice how to negotiate difficult social situations.
Help Your Child Manage Stress
Health experts recommend that adolescents get minimum of 8 hours sleep. A good night’s rest is crucial for their growing bodies, but also beneficial in managing emotions and doing well in school. Make sure your child gets a decent night’s rest and eats a healthy breakfast before they head to school. Also, since research has shown the toll that social media can take, limit your child’s use of electronic devices. If your child isn’t involved in sports, suggest that they get some exercise—even a quick walk or bike ride can do wonders. Encourage your child to have some down time so they can relax and recharge. Check out our blog about sleep and the importance: Teens and Sleep: Why They Need It and How to Help Them Get It.
Be actively engaged in your child’s school life. Attend parent nights and teacher conferences. Keep teachers informed and communicate any concerns to them. Join parent groups and check the school’s website or portal often to stay on top of information and notices. Organizations like your school’s PTA or Foundation are great ways to stay in the loop of what is happening at the school while still giving students a little bit of freedom as they transition into their teenage years. The work of these organizations help schools offer unique experiences to our students.
Offer Empathy and Support
The best way to help your child through school transitions is to foster open communication and empathize with them. Rather than asking them, “How was school today?” or, “What did you do today?”, ask some specific questions to get the conversation going beyond “fine” or “nothing”. Try, “What is something new you learned today?”, “What was something challenging in one of your classes?”, “Who did you eat lunch with today?” or, “What class did you attend for your tutorial time?” Vary the questions and don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions.
Let your child know how much you appreciate them sharing their feelings, concerns, and successes. You do not have to fix the problems or make it all better; just acknowledge their feelings, offer empathy, and be there for the journey.