By Terry J. Basile, Marriage and Family Therapist
I remember in elementary school I would be so excited to meet my new teacher that the night before school I couldn’t sleep. In junior high school I was anxious to see my friends. All of us have different memories and we want our children to have the best start each new school year. Here are some suggestions to help you with that goal by using a parenting technique I call STOP, LOOK and LISTEN.
· STOP means make some time during the frenzy of fun activities of camps, swimming lessons and family vacations. Create some activities to help your child readjust to the structure of school with some summer practice of skills. You could make grocery shopping a review of colors, an addition lesson or just a reminder about behavior when you stand in line. For older children how about supporting them making their own book club based on popular movies or take day trips that are connected to a book they’ve read. For example, Hunger Games is a movie but there are three books in the series to keep skills up over the summer. You could read it as well and make it a fun discussion over ice cream. Some children just need to keep their brains active. Children with special needs may benefit from some extra tutoring the month before school starts. Make sure to find a fun reward for their efforts, like getting to pick a video for the family to watch.
· LOOK at how your child may have grown over the summer. Assess how the last school year ended. Problems with a teacher or peers that were not addressed will cause anxiety for the new school year. A child that is socially shy needs to know that they are special in their own way. Organizing play dates is an important way to practice over the summer. Be part of the activity and watch for their strengths and problem areas. Then you can help them practice making friends with a tea party of their own with family members. Just like we don’t get an instruction book when we become parents, they don’t get one on how to be a kid. For older children, watch for changes in mood and friendships. Often with junior high there is a change in alliances and sometimes a best friend goes to a different school. The root of much adolescent depression is a loss that is never acknowledged or expressed. Find an activity that gives your child the opportunity to make new friends. Encourage them to pick an afterschool activity so they can meet peers while doing something they feel competent at or want to learn.
· LISTEN means having directed conversations with your child. Help them to identify their strengths. For example, remind them of some special project that they excelled at last year in school. Then ask them to do something similar now and display it for others to praise. Acknowledge and support their expression of feelings by talking about your own. You can normalize some feelings by sharing how you felt growing up. Use common situations at home or on a tv show to encourage discussion. Then ask what makes them feel that way and what they can do to feel better. Riding in the car with a teen is usually a way to get a dialog going, so make it a long ride. Questions need to be specific, without judgment about the answers. Feelings cannot be right or wrong. For young children you can point out who they can seek out to get a hug or a smile. For older children help them to identify a school counselor or teacher they can talk to if they feel unsafe, upset or confused. While phone use can be limited at school, you can make rules about when they should call or text you with a problem.
I also encourage you to spend time once school starts to adapt the STOP, LOOK and LISTEN techniques throughout the year. Make time to slow down with your child, check in and support them with real strategies to make school a place to learn, grow and succeed !
Terry J. Basile, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
She has been a therapist, program administrator and involved with feelings education throughout her career. Presently she has a private practice in Chico and has written the children’s book Let’s Color Your Feelings! illustrated by Conner Wenzel. It is available through her website: letscoloryourfeelings.com, Amazon or Lyons Books. You can also reach her through her email address coloryourfeelings.com.