With the excitement of a new school year, kids and parents accelerate the slow speed of summer days to start on a positive note. They shop for outfits that will help them fit in better this year. They buy new binders, pens, and computers — and the fresh purchases remind them that the year is filled with promises of success: new teams, new teachers, maybe even new friends. There won’t be another bully this year. They won’t have to endure the unfair homework rules of last year’s teacher. This fall will be better.
Every parent begins a new school year feeling hopeful — you want this year to be better for your kids. But as you buy new school supplies, don’t overlook the real barometer of your child’s success: his behavior.
Remember that your kids share your hopes for a more successful year. Even if your daughter earned straight As and never got in an argument with anyone last year, she’s nervous about the fall. If your son was tutored all summer for dyslexia and made great strides, he’s stressed about his upcoming workload. Your daughter wants to sing better, your son wants to make varsity, and your second-grader wants easier homework assignments.
Each of your children, regardless of their ages, is worried about friendships.
It’s fair to say that as much anxiety as you feel about the new year, double it for your child and you’ll begin to live in his shoes. So be sensitive to your child’s anxiety about the new year and remind him that this is normal.
Give kids time to adjust. Transitions are hard for most children, so be patient with yours during the first six weeks of a new year school. They will be more irritable because they’ll be sleep-deprived. They may complain about the teacher, the homework, or the new kids in class. Take this all in and don’t overreact — because most of this is about venting during the transition. If something’s really wrong, it will still be there after the first few months.
Then, proceed cautiously to find out the problem and work with the teacher to solve it.
Watch closely for cues that a real problem may be arising. Three weeks before ninth grade began, one of my daughters began having sleep difficulties. I asked what was wrong and she said she wasn’t sure. After school started, she came home crying every day. Again, she was miserable but couldn’t put her finger on the source of her unhappiness.
Perhaps she’s having friendship issues, not getting along with a teacher, or is even premenstrual, I thought. Finally, when six weeks of the semester passed and she was still miserable — I pulled her out of the school.
Take note of your child’s problems but don’t overreact the first couple of months.
The best I could glean from her 13-year-old young mind was, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but whenever I’m at school, I’m depressed.”
When a child is struggling and neither you nor she can figure out the root of the problem, it’s hard to find a solution — so you do the best you can. It wasn’t until years later that my daughter was able to understand why she felt the way she had. She later said she had never wanted to be at the school but went there because her sisters had attended; her best friend had left; the principal wasn’t friendly; and she just felt sad — all the time. A lot of things piled up and depression took over.
This September, do your kids a favor. Watch them closely. Listen to their tone of voice when they come home and observe them doing their homework.
Pay attention to how well they sleep and to their moods when they get on the bus.
Take note of their problems — but don’t overreact the first couple of months. If something’s terribly wrong, it will remain. And if you find a real problem — do your best to work with the teacher to solve it.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids,” which is part of The Strong Parent Project.