“School is starting!” These words bring joy to some and strike terror into others. I remember as a boy when my parents came to pick me up after spending some wonderful time with my grandfather at his home on a river during the month of August. I was devastated that the time was coming to an end, and although I enjoyed school, I had no desire to go back. Obviously, each child has his or her own reaction to the announcement; one of my grandchildren couldn’t wait and loves school; another is very apprehensive; a third sees school as a necessary evil. In any case, the beginning of the school year brings anxiety as parents and children anticipate and experience change.
During the first days of school, there are a number of situations that confront every child. Peers, teachers, the very classroom or school atmosphere, to say nothing of homework and educational content. The first few days often set the stage for the year to come. Hopefully, most will hear about the excitement of having a new teacher, seeing friends, or being thrilled about a new class. However, there are also red flags such as not being included, feeling bullied by peers or picked on by the teacher, or being exposed to class content that is overwhelming or offensive to family values. In some instances, some learning difficulties will come to light that were not previously recognized. For others there have been family changes that have an impact on the child at school – a move, divorce, or other loss that may make adjustment more difficult.
It is especially important to understand and be sensitive to children’s feelings and experiences during this early time of adjustment. The old adage about “nipping it in the bud” fits here. There are things the concerned parent can do:
- It is important to be particularly sensitive to the child and their communication (both verbal and non-verbal). Celebrate the positives with them and be aware of areas of concern.
- If possible, listen and help your child problem solve issues that they are capable of handling. Sometimes just having a sympathetic ear is all that is needed.
- When the situation seems overwhelming and more than the child can handle, it is time to step in. Even though the child may not like it, often times the teacher or guidance staff at school is the place to start.
- Seek other advice and help when it is indicated. Parenting is difficult and it is hard to handle it alone; however, sometimes there are real medical, learning, or relationship issues that respond best to early intervention by a physician, psychologist or counselor.
- Ultimately, as a last resort, you may have to make hard decisions in the best interest of your child. As parents, we reluctantly changed schools for one of our children and the adjustment was immediate and positive.
As a professional therapist and supervisor, I know how important encouragement and sometimes early intervention are. Too often, I have seen situations that could have been handled early on which develop into major problems. It bothers me tremendously when we receive a referral in May about a problem that should have been dealt with and solved earlier. Parenting is a wonderful and daunting responsibility. The task of raising a child from total dependence to independence brings both joys and sorrows. Taking positive steps now will help insure more joy as you and your child journey forward.
Lee Webster is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has over 40 years of counseling experience. He is also the founder and clinical director of the Center for Human Development. To learn more about Lee click here.