While writing my back-to-school to-do list, I began to ponder how different this year’s list looks compared to last year’s list. As we continue to do our best in the midst of countless unknowns, our children are learning to adjust to an abnormal amount of change. Many emotions are wrapped around unwanted change, unplanned change, and ambiguous change. What are some ways we can help our children feel comfortable and even excited about returning to school?
Meet them where they are at…
Our worries are not necessarily their worries! If we assume what worries them, it’s easy to underestimate or overestimate the worry. We can unintentionally add to our children’s worries if we talk more than we listen. Make it a priority to be fully present when your child brings up a concern. Your child may start by asking a simple school-related question. By showing your child you are willing to stop what you are doing and make yourself fully available enforces the level of importance they feel. As tempting as it may be to quickly finish a task and return to your child later, there is no guarantee your child will still be in the vulnerable mood to share their feelings.
More than just words…
I often try to pre-plan just the right words when explaining difficult subjects to my children. I’ve come to realize the exact choice of my words doesn’t guarantee the message I want to convey will be the message received. In addition to leading by example in our daily lives, we also need to pay attention to our body language and our tone. Numerous research studies have proven the impact of non-verbal communication. Psychologist, Albert Mehrabian, completed a study that concluded a message is received 55% through body language, 38% attributed to tone, and only 7% through actual words.
How to talk them through the worry….
Numerous times I have quickly reassured my children by offering responses like, “ Oh…you will be fine and it’s really nothing to worry about.” As the parent, I was confident they would be fine and I was offering assurance. I was also dismissing how they were feeling without realizing it. It’s best to walk them through each worry and the actual reality of the worry. Assist them to understand why it is realistic or unrealistic. Ask some thought-provoking questions to help them come up with possible solutions on their own. What happened last year when you had a new teacher? How did that turn out? What is something you could do to feel more comfortable? Has something worked well in the past? What is something you could do to help another student feel less nervous? (this switches internal thoughts to external and helps decrease anxiety) Talking about a worry with someone who intently listens can make the worry feel much smaller. This will help them realize and truly believe they are able to take control of the worry.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8
Alicia Barilla MS LMHC School Counselor / Educational Therapist