HOLYOKE — The start of a new academic year can be stressful for students of any age, and their parents, too. It is important to give all children the space to talk about their concerns and keep those lines of communication open without judgment. It is about making the transition from summer to school fun and reassuring children it is OK to talk about their feelings. Staying positive as parents helps frame that approach with them.
Paying attention to emotional wellness is also a good reminder that it is as much a factor in daily life as physical wellness and that children, whether they are beginning their formal education or heading off to higher education, need to be prepared mentally to cope with new situations and new stresses.
According to Dr. Negar Beheshti, chief medical officer at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, “the transition back to school for some youth, regardless of grade and age, can be filled with anxiety and uncertainty. ‘Will I like my teachers?’ ‘Will my classmates like me?’ These and other questions are very common and quite typical as students, and their families, make their way from summertime to school time. Talking with your children about how they are feeling is a first, positive step. While children must return to school, don’t minimize how they are feeling. Empathize with their feelings, and give them the space and the confidence to communicate how they are feeling.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has an informative page for parents, teachers, and college students. In addition, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s Facts for Families provides concise and up-to-date information on issues that affect children, teenagers, and their families.
Middle school can be a difficult time as it comes during a period of social and emotional development when students are becoming more aware of the complexities of relationships and of where they fit in with their classmates. Talk with your child about how they feel they have changed over the summer, how their classmates may have changed, and how anxious or eager they are about the start of another school year.
High school means growing independence and more time spent with peers than family. It can also usher in much personal uncertainty, changing friendships, increased peer pressure, and high academic expectations. Encourage your high-school child to be involved in activities they will enjoy in the coming year and ask what they hope their year ahead will be like. The key is to listen without judgment and to let them know you want to support them in having a good year.
Managing one’s time, making decisions on what courses and which friends, and meeting expectations, one’s own or others, are all part of college life. Parental support remains important, even at a distance, and finding out what mental-health services a university has and saying it’s OK to access them if needed could prove especially beneficial to your child.
No matter what school year your child is entering, be aware of any ongoing changes in their behavior and, if needed, discuss them with their pediatrician.