The start of a new school year can be exciting, but it can also make your child feel anxious, especially if last year was a rough one, or if they are entering a new school. While some back-to-school tips are widely known (like getting plenty of sleep and eating a healthy breakfast), there are other ways to prepare.
Nicholas J. Westers, Psy.D., ABPP, a clinical psychologist at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern, shares five ways to help your child start the school year off right.
1. Help kids start school with a fresh perspective
Kids can change a lot over a summer break. Sure, summer is just a couple of months long, but a lot can happen during that time (such as new experiences, new friends or a growth spurt). While returning to school may tempt kids to act the same as they did the year before, they can make an effort to take on a new attitude. For example:
- If they were mean to others, they can make it a point to be nice.
- If they complained, they could start looking for the good in people and situations.
- If they made poor decisions last year, a new school year is an opportunity to use better judgment.
Encourage your child that now is the time to start new habits and be intentional about their behavior.
2. Encourage kids to be true to themselves at school
Encourage your child to identify their values and stick to them – such as being kind to others, working hard at school and avoiding alcohol and drugs. Not everyone is going to like them and that's okay.
They don't have to try and impress friends and classmates, especially if doing so violates their own values. Explain to your child that when they stick to their values, others will usually respect that, even if they don't show it.
3. Tell your child the value of meaningful friendships
The first couple of weeks back-to-school tend to seem a little socially chaotic as everyone is trying to find their place in the "social ladder of popularity." However, having just a couple of close friends can be more important and rewarding than having tons of surface-level friends.
4. Identify your child's strengths at school
Starting the new school year with the goal of earning good grades is admirable and certainly important, so encourage your child to go for it. But working hard at school and learning how to recover from setbacks can be just as important in achieving goals.
If your child feels super stressed about classes, schedule an occasional 10-to-15-minute worry time to allow them to be anxious. Then, encourage them to move on so it doesn't control the rest of their week or negatively impact grades.
If, after trying their best, your child is not a straight A/B student, identify what else they are good at and then do it. A student with a lower GPA who also volunteers in the community still shows well-roundedness, for example. Grades aren't everything – but kids need to at least try their best.
5. Support your kids emotionally
This may sound cliché, or maybe it sounds surprising, but many of the most successful and emotionally healthy kids at school know that their parents can be their greatest ally. You may think it's obvious, but let your child know they can tell you anything. Encourage them to share one good thing that happened at school each day. Help them succeed by continuing to be their biggest cheerleader.
Children's Health is here to help as your child prepares for a new year at school. See more tips and advice for making this school year a healthy and happy one.
Stay current on the health insights that make a difference to your children. Sign up for the Children's Health newsletter and have more tips sent directly to your inbox.