Expert advice from Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Rachel Thomasian
Story by Shanee Edwards | Photo by Zsuzsi Steiner
Going back to school or starting school for the first time is normally a happy, exciting time for children. But for some kids, facing new social situations or dealing with a new routine can cause anxiety. I asked Playa Vista’s own Rachel Thomasian, a licensed marriage and family therapist, to share her advice for helping to ease the transition from summer vacation to school.
1. Set a Routine
Anxieties can range from being separated from their parents and away from home to whether or not they’re going to have any friends. Parents can start by establishing a pretty reliable routine and schedule, and clearly communicating this with their child. Routine provides relief from anxiety by creating a sense of normalcy. When children know what time they’ll be going to school, what their schedule will look like, and what time they’ll be picked up, they tend to adjust more quickly. If there’s going to be a change in that schedule, make sure to talk about it in advance.
2. Make Talking About Feelings a Thing
The next time you’re reading a book or watching a movie, pause and ask what your child thinks a character might be feeling, or how your child might feel if they were in that situation. When you normalize having and talking about feelings, you increase the likelihood that your child will come talk to you about something going on at school that may be unpleasant. It also helps them identify and talk about feelings instead of hiding them, which can cause even more anxiety.
3. A Parent’s Energy and Mood Informs the Child’s
Children feed off their parent’s energy. If a parent is excited, their children are more likely to be. If they’re very anxious, it sends their child the message that there is something to worry about. Expect that there might be some anxiety or some sadness at first, and be patient. Almost everyone adjusts and settles in just fine. It’s OK to recruit help from teachers and get the line of communication started so everyone is on the same page.
4. Avoid Saying, ‘There’s Nothing to Worry About’
While well meaning, this sentiment can invalidate their feelings and may make them feel even more alone if they think you don’t “get it.” Instead, try “It’s OK to worry. Let me tell you about a time I was worried and what I did to be OK.” You can try breathing exercises or going on a walk together. Help your child talk about a time that they were anxious about something — maybe a time when things changed in their lives — and discuss how everything turned out fine. Remind them of the new friends they made and the positive things that actually came out of the situation they were so worried about.
5. Create Rituals and Celebrations Around Changes and Milestones
I think it is so important to celebrate the positive emotions associated with change and uncertainty. Change in our lives often fuels a sense of adventure, curiosity about our world, and the joy of experiencing things for the first time. Celebrating the beginning of the school year is an example of how to create a sense of excitement around this new experience. I remember really enjoying back to school shopping and have made this a big event for my kids as well.
For more info about Rachel Thomasian and her practice, visit playavistacounseling.com.