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As the new school year approaches, it’s natural for both parents and kids to feel a little bit of apprehension. We’re going from a more relaxed summer schedule to one that probably starts earlier in the day and is soon to include homework and extracurriculars. Kids are adjusting to a new classroom, a new bus route, or maybe even an entirely new school. As parents who hate to see our kids uncomfortable, we question whether we’ve done enough to prepare them — to make their transition into the new academic year as smooth as possible.
We’re seeking those answers, too, so we turned to clinical psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy (better known as simply “Dr. Becky”) for advice on getting kids ready, and off on the right foot, for back-to-school season. TIME Magazine hailed her “the millennial parenting whisperer”. Her podcast, Good Inside, was listed as one of Apple’s best podcasts of 2021. Her parenting guide was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. Suffice it to say, she knows a thing or two (or tons!) — she even created a back to school bundle on her website to help parents navigate through this very topic. Here, she gives us a hand too, with her sage advice on the biggest issues families face when it comes to going back to school.
Establishing a New Routine
“Name what will stay the same and what will be different when your child transitions back to school,” Dr. Becky suggests. “For example, you might say: ‘Mommy will wake you up in the morning and make you breakfast — that’s the same. You will eat lunch with your friends at school — that’s different!’ Helping kids identify ‘same and different’ helps them feel secure in the transition.”
Managing Separation Anxiety
For younger kids that might be a little hesitant to leave a parent’s side, Dr. Becky advises coming up with a simple separation routine — a goodbye that you can repeat each day. “This allows a child to be able to count on something familiar in the separation process — and that is huge for separation success.
Managing General Anxiety About Going Back to School
Dr. Becky tells SheKnows that there are two important components to alleviating kids’ fears: validation and confidence. In other words, she says, “Validate your kid’s feelings and name your confidence in them. Most of us do one component without the other, and this is an incomplete strategy that leaves kids feeling frustrated.”
An example of validation without confidence: “I know, back to school is hard! It’s so hard.”
An example of confidence without validation: “You’re going to figure it out, I know it.”
To help kids build resilience, she explains, we need a combination of those two things: “Back to school is hard, and I know you’re going to figure it out.”
Dr. Becky’s Top Tip for Parents
We asked Dr. Becky for the single most crucial piece of advice she would give parents about handling back-to-school season — or, really, any season at all.
“I come back to my ultimate parenting mantra: ‘This feels hard because it is hard,’” she tells us. If you’re like most parents, your first instinct when things get difficult is to blame yourself. It’s that nagging, guilty little voice every parent knows that says, “Why am I such a bad parent?” or “What is wrong with me?”
“Self-blame freezes us, spirals us into anxiety, and gets in our way of seeing what we need — and what our kid needs,” Dr. Becky says. “The mantra, ‘This feels hard because it is hard’ or even ‘this feels hard because it is hard … not because I’m doing something wrong’ helps us validate the struggle in front of us without adding that layer of self-blame. This is everything.”
Going from summer to fall — and all that it brings — can mean a lot of changes, and a lot of concerns to accompany them. But luckily, we can ease anxieties and instill confidence with just a few tweaks to the way we talk to our kids … and to ourselves!
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