The end of summer and the start of a new school year are commonly filled with excitement and anticipation, tension, and trepidation. The shift to fall evokes many questions and feelings for children and parents alike. Parents can limit the amount of stress children experience during this transition by preparing for the changes to come.
Help children identify and label feelings. Discuss how change can be both scary and exciting.
Be on time for drop off and pick up. This may sound simple, but it is important. Also, give your child an appropriate transitional object such as a picture attached to their lunch box or backpack, or an old key chain of yours, or a special hair clip that they can “hold” onto while you are apart. Don’t send pacifiers, blankets or other objects that encourage regressive behavior. These objects will alienate your child from the other kids who are struggling with their “baby” feelings.
Always say good-bye and don’t just engage them in some activity to distract them and “sneak” off. This may work in the short run, but will compromise your child’s trust.
Parents with children on the younger side of this age group should review the previous section for additional age-appropriate tips.
The developmental focus for children this age is about “fitting in.” Assure children the feelings they are having about going back to school are normal and that their friends are feeling the same things. Empower your child. Tell them you know they are ready. Review the summer and all of their social, athletic, and artistic accomplishments.
Children this age often ask detailed questions about the things they do not understand in an attempt to relieve anxiety. Try to avoid lengthy explanations about school, teachers, and classmates, which can confuse and overwhelm them.
The developmental angst of adolescence is the struggle between independence (being out in the world) and the need to stay connected to the family. A new school year and a move to middle or high school is a haven for teens to try on new identities and newfound independence while struggling with anxiety and fears of not fitting in with their peers.
Start the year off with a clear set of expectations. Set limits in advance regarding unacceptable behavior and its consequences.
Don’t take it personally when teens act as if you’re terribly flawed. It is simply their way of coping with separating from the family and moving toward adulthood.
Dear Laurie, my 14-year-old daughter just came out as a lesbian, and my wife told me that I should’ve never appeased my daughter’s desire to play sports her entire childhood. I know how illogical my wife’s statement is, but I can’t help but feel responsible and guilty. What should I do? –Sad Dad
Dear Sad Dad,
I feel badly for what you are going through but, to be blunt, get over the guilt! Your daughter needs you and feeling guilty will help no one. The responsibility you actually have is to be open with your daughter and encourage her to express her feelings in spite of her mother’s misconceptions.
Being 14 is tricky. There is still a little kid beneath the bravado–as well as a young adult about to emerge. Even though your daughter “came out,” she is still struggling with many questions and concerns.
Maybe you can redirect your wife’s worries toward something more productive, like your daughter’s fears. Remind your wife that your daughter is still the same person she was prior to “coming out” and encouraging the two to stay connected is essential.
Good luck! –Laurie