A Kids Therapists Guide to Helping Your Child Back to School
Close your eyes for a moment…
Imagine yourself walking through the hallway of a brand-new workplace. You meet all the qualifications for the job. Yet, your stomach feels twisted up and you’re worried if your coworkers will like you, if they will sit with you at lunch, or listen to your ideas.
Sound familiar? Now imagine this feeling repeating itself every year when a child starts a new grade and enters a new classroom with new classmates and a new teacher. Sure, it might be the same school, but for a small child, the environment looks and feels completely different.
Parents experience immense pressure to ensure their children arrive on time and are ready to learn at school every day for almost nine months of the year. In fact, it is their legal responsibility. Therefore, resistance, fear, or even avoidance feels like an additional weight in the heavy load that parents carry. It’s common to respond to this resistance with frustration.
The next time this happens…
picture your last first day. How did your stomach feel? Your chest? Your head? Did you wake up in the morning with a slight sense of dread? Use this moment of mindfulness to connect with your child. Share how your last day made you feel and how you worked through it. Validate their feelings with respect and curiosity. Your empathy has the power to reduce the fear driving your child’s strong reaction to the oncoming school year.
To start a conversation with your child, validate what they feel. This will help them feel connected and safe instead of fearful or resentful. Next, redirect their attention away from the ickiness they feel by offering an invitation to work through the discomfort together. In their book The Whole Brain Child Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson call this method “connect and redirect.” This book and other great resources aimed at offering neuroscience-backed childcare strategies can be found at Dr. Siegel’s website.
a Kids Therapists Conversation Tips
- “I know how hard ‘first days’ can be, and it seems like you might be feeling worried about starting 3rd grade. Let’s see how we can work through this worry together.”
- “Going to school feels hard sometimes. I have days when I want to stay at home all day too. I wonder if I can walk you to your classroom today to make it a little easier?”
- “It seems like the mornings feel tricky and uncomfortable. Should we give your teacher a head’s up, so they know you need a little quiet time before getting started on your work?”
Children are not tiny adults. They need help pausing during difficult moments to reflect on their emotions. Nervousness, frustration, and anxiety feel strange and scary to a small person that has very little experience dealing with big feelings. Show them that you are connected to how they feel and will support them in developing strategies to ease their discomfort. Remember, you know what a first day feels like too!
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About the Author
Written by Houston Kids Therapist, Juliet Duralde, LPC-A. If you would like to learn more about Houston child therapist, Juliet Duralde, LPC-A, please visit her bio here.
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