Girl in backpack

By: Gayla Grace
  
“Mom, I’m not sure I should have signed up for Calculus and AP English,” says Adam, a high school junior. “I’ve heard both classes are really hard at my school.” Adam, a smart student who doesn’t want to disappoint his parents, lacks confidence in his ability to keep up with the work required in his upcoming classes. His main fear centers around academics. 
 
Adam’s younger sister, Avery, is entering middle school and she’s nervous about her new school environment. Avery doesn’t make friends easily and she worries about who she’ll eat lunch with and whether she’ll have anyone to talk to in the mornings. Avery’s fears are focused on the social aspects of school.
 
As our kids head back to school, they have fears that range from finding the right bus after school to whether they’ll pass all their classes to graduate. A child’s personality, learning style, academic needs, social and emotional development, and prior school experiences contribute to their fears and how they handle them.  As parents, we can help our kids adjust to upcoming change and cope with whatever fears they face. Following are a few tips:
 
Acknowledge the Fear
 
When our kids recognize and put words to their fears, we can then help them cope. Questions from Avery’s mom like, “What are you concerned about as your start middle school-the lunch period, making new friends?” will get Avery talking. As she expresses her fears, her mom can acknowledge them by saying, “I know it can be scary to start a new school. Do you remember when we first moved here and how well you adjusted to your new school, a new church, and the new soccer program in the community?” 
 
If a child has had a challenging or traumatic issue at school, it’s important to acknowledge the issue and help the child separate the past from the present. For instance, just because Avery encountered a mean-girl friendship last year that shattered her confidence doesn’t mean she can’t equip herself to manage it better in middle school. Stressful situations provide opportunities for our kids to practice life skills, with our support and words of wisdom, that carry into adulthood.
 
Minimize Drama Surrounding the Fear
 
Adam’s fear of passing Calculus might bring up memories of our own failures in high school. When those thoughts surface, it’s best to be careful about how much we say. Positive statements that remind Adam of his previous successes in difficult classes will help dissipate his fears. Brainstorming ideas, such as using a tutor or his brainy friend next door when necessary, will empower him past his fear. 
 
Watching children struggle with fear sends many parents into rescue mode. Instead of helping them face their fear, the parent finds a way of escape. Adam doesn’t need to enroll in a different class because he’s nervous about Calculus. He needs reminders of how he has succeeded in the past and encouragement that will enable him to plunge through. 
 
“It’s a wise parent who realizes not only that our children watch us and repeat our words, but they also take their cues about how to react to life from us,” says Sherry Surratt in her Thriving Family article, “Mom, I’m Scared.” “If we over-react, we send messages of worry that can enable our children’s fear.”
 
We hinder our children from the maturing process when we magnify the problem and take over to solve it. Facing fears and learning how to cope with stressful situations is a normal part of healthy development.
 
Teach Your Child to Ask for Help
 
In a new school environment, Avery might fear getting lost in the halls. First-day anxiety can be relieved by teaching her that help is only one question away. Teachers are prepared to help new students navigate large buildings with hard-to-find classrooms. Older students can also provide friendly guidance to newcomers.
 
School counselors are equipped to provide assistance when students need answers to difficult situations. If Avery encounters bullying from mean girls, asking for a counselor’s help alerts school administration of a problem that might need addressing on a larger scale and protects Avery from behavior that could escalate. 
 
Reminding kids they don’t have to face their fears alone gives them confidence to face a new environment and walk through challenging situations.
 
Help Your Child Build Resiliency
 
Children who have a resilient attitude fare better with whatever life presents. Parents can’t predict every circumstance a child will encounter, but we can help nurture strong attributes.
 
The American Psychological Association offers the following ten tips to help build resilience in children and teens.*
 
• Make connections (friends, family support, church)
• Have him or her help others (contribution)
• Maintain a daily routine
• Take a break (when overly stressed or worried)
• Teach your child self-care
• Move toward your goals
• Nurture a positive self-view
• Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook
• Look for opportunities for self-discovery
• Accept that change is part of living
 
Resiliency enables our kids to face their fears head on and gives them confidence to overcome them. 
 
Back-to-school fears are real and kids need help coping with what worries them. As parents, we help our children adjust to upcoming change and face their fears when we model and teach healthy developmental skills and coping strategies. 
 
 
Bio: Gayla Grace holds a master’s degree in Psychology and Counseling and has coached her five kids through an assortment of back to school fears. She is the author of a newly-released book, Stepparenting With Grace, available on Amazon.