As a new school year begins, here are some ways you as parents can help your kids get off to a smooth start:

Assist – Based on the personalities of your children, you can take steps to assist their adjustment to a new grade, new teacher(s) or new school. While some children take change and challenges in stride, others will have much more anticipatory anxiety. Acknowledging your child’s feelings or sharing memories of some of your fears starting school as a child will normalize your child’s anxiety.

Example: Offer to take your child ahead of time for a walk through of their schedule when you bring them in for registration, including bus stops and finding their locker.

Assess- It’s important that parents assess the strengths and gifts of each of their children to have realistic expectations and encourage them in positive directions that fit the child’s gifts, not the parents’ desires. If children are pushed into activities that aren’t a good match, or to get better grades in subjects contrary to their abilities, it can set them up for stress and failure. If encouraged in areas in which they have interest and ability, they can flourish and feel comfortable instead of anxious.

Example: Even if older siblings and parents are all interested and involved in sports, if one child is gifted in music, support them in joining band or choir instead.

Allow – In ways that are age appropriate, it’s vital that parents allow their children to take responsibility for their own school success. Parents can be tempted to become “helicopter parents” that hover over their kids in order to protect them from making mistakes, being rejected, experiencing the consequences of procrastination, or experiencing any hardship and struggles. It’s important that kids have the right balance between the freedom to learn reasonable lessons from their choices and to have the support and guidance of their parents as needed.

Example: When our daughters were in high school and college, my husband and I gradually encouraged them, if any issue arose, to try to handle it themselves but to share with us about it; if they, or we, felt they needed our help, then we were there for backup. I remember one occasion when our neighbors’ son, while in college, had a schedule conflict with a course he needed to take and a sports team he was on. His roommate, in the same situation, didn’t say anything to his parents about it. Our neighbors’ son, however, called his folks and after his dad spoke to staff in charge, his schedule was adjusted to fit in the required course. His roommate ended up needing to go an extra semester in order to graduate college because of that class.

Affirm – Remember that for every negative we hear, ten positives are needed to counteract it. Try to remember to affirm your children whenever possible, rather than to just take their positive behaviors for granted. Our natural bent is to notice and correct wrong behaviors and just expect positive behaviors to occur. If children feel that nothing they do is acknowledged or right or good enough, they will either become discouraged and give up, or stressed and anxious trying to earn your approval. Giving them positive reinforcement for their efforts can make a big difference in their confidence and attitude.

Example: I’ve had many teen clients feel discouraged about a poor or failing grade, and they will discount the hard work they do to raise it a grade level. I try to affirm their efforts and help them value bringing an “F” up to a “D” or “C”, rather than dismiss that they didn’t get an “A.”

Advocate – It’s also necessary to be involved in your children’s day to day school experiences. Encourage them to share and show an active interest in the things that have happened in their day. Put yourself in their shoes, and remember that something that seems like a small incident to us, may feel like a major catastrophe to them. If situations seem to be a pattern, or your child’s anxiety or complaining continues, don’t hesitate to address this with their teacher or other staff, or to seek professional help as needed.

Example: Many families find it a helpful communication tool to have everyone in the family share HI/LO’s at the dinner table; everyone takes turns telling of a high point and low point of their day. These and other activities that encourage sharing and active listening can develop a safe and supportive environment for children to share, and parents to stay aware of any potential issues that need their intervention.

Written by Roberta Vondrak, LCPC