A new school year brings a mix of excitement and worries: "Will I do well? Will my teacher like me? Where will I sit? Will I be teased on the playground? Will I be invited to someone's house? Such questions will arise for all children but even more so for children who have formerly been bullied or excluded.
We all face not feeling good enough at times. Even popular children are anxious returning to school: it’s a new teacher, they’ve changed over the summer, were they unable to connect with their friends. What are your children's back-to-school anxieties? Casually ask them while riding in the car and at dinner. Parents,feeling uncomfortable makes it difficult, but necessary, to broach this sensitive topic. However, we must take steps to help prepare our children for inevitable situations. You just might learn things your children kept private out of shame or feared reactions by teachers and parents.
Begin these talks now. Work the conversations in naturally and slowly. Think of potential questions and worries and plan a strategy in advance for each anxiety. This is a one-on-one conversation not to be discussed in front of siblingsor other family members.
Some examples of questions are:
Are you looking forward to having a new teacher? Are you worried that he/she may not like you? What do your friends say about this teacher? Is there anything you want he/she to know about you?
Which classmates are you looking forward to seeing again? Is there one boy or girl that you would like to have as your friend and why? Were there any children that scared you or made you feel scared about going to school each day? Are you worried about who you will be sitting next to? How did things go on the playground last year? Do you like recess and why?
What subject did you like the most last year and why? What subject did you like the least last year and why? What subject made your stomach hurt? What subject was really boring and why? How would you teach the boring subject differently? What would get you excited about the subject you liked the least?
This should get your started. The more the anxieties are shared and aired, the less they will build and affect day to day learning. Children don’t know how to identify or address anxieties. It does interfere with their listening and processing skills, and the ability to stay focused. If children go to school anxious, they will lose substantial incoming information, especially new information.
There are ways to help children address their anxieties and manage them. My next article will explore these skills and behaviors. When children learn how to manage their emotions and feelings, they feel safer and are more resilient.