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 he or she is entering a new school. While some back-to-school tips are widely known (like get plenty of sleep and eat 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 four ways to help your child start the year off right.
1. Encourage kids to 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. If they were mean to others, they can make it a point to be nice. If they complained, they can 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 be the person they have wanted to be.
2. Not everyone has to like them – and that's okay
Encourage your child to identify their values and stick to them (e.g., being kind to others, working hard at school, 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. Teach your child that when they stick to their values, others will usually respect that, even if they don't show it. 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 close friends can be more important and rewarding than having tons of surface-level friends.and rewarding than having tons of surface-level friends.
3. Grades are important, but so is being well-rounded
Starting the new school year with the goal of earning good grades is great 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 anxious 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, they're 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.
4. Let kids know that you are there for them
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.
Stay current on the health insight that makes a difference to your children. Sign up for the Children's Health newsletter and have more tips sent directly to your inbox.