Back-to-school blues - Helping your children to fit it in
As the new school year approaches, many students will be forced to adjust to a new environment, leaving all the friends they had made at the lower level.
Then there are those who never left the shelter of their homes and now must adjust to a new environment where there is no 'mommy and daddy'.
It can be a stressful time for children, especially those who are shy and find it hard to fit it.
Family and Religion reached out to Dr Maloney Hunter, psychologist and director/mentor of Sisters United in Prayer, Healing Empowerment and Restoration, to address the issue.
For her, every child feels like they don't fit in at some point. And they are not alone as she said adults, too, feel that way occasionally. "We all experience being 'alone in a room full of people'. With kids, the need to be part of a group is instinctual - it's survival. They want to fit in and be like everyone else because it gives them a sense of safety and security. So when your child tells you they don't fit in, they're also saying, 'I don't feel safe'," informed Hunter.
The sad reality of this, she said, is that other children will focus on those who are different and can be very cruel.
Her advice to parents is to encourage their children to make friends.
"Show that you're interested by asking genuine (but not nosey) questions about their classmates' hobbies, families, and favourite subjects at school. As an added benefit, you won't have to talk so much when you encourage others to talk about themselves," she said.
REASSURING and COACHING
In reaching out to parents, Hunter said that they should strike a balance between reassuring and coaching.
"When talking to your child, remind them that a lot of other kids have gone through the same thing and made it through OK. Give them some perspective on the issue, the knowledge that this is not the end of the world. Also, in your own mind, don't let it be the end of the world," she said.
Hunter added: "Coaches reinforce and remind kids of skills that have already been acquired. Teachers help kids identify and develop the skills they need to solve an individual problem," she points out.
If, in spite of all this reassurance, the child is still feeling bad or down, Hunter said limits must continue to be set, allowing the child to know that he or she is still expected to carry out their responsibilities and complete their tasks.
"If they're upset after school, just say, 'Well, take a few minutes and then let's get started with homework.' They can feel bad for a certain amount of time, but then they have to start their homework or clean their room. The key is, don't let them be crippled by feeling bad, and don't treat them like they're cripples," said Hunter.
HIGH SCHOOL TRANSITION
For those transitioning to high school, Hunter said that although they might have shot up over the summer, they are still are very young and can deeply feel the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty of both the normal stresses of being a teen, as well as adjusting to a new surrounding.
"Emotions may be unpredictable and close to the surface during the teen years and finding the best way to connect to your child can be difficult. Talk with your child whenever you can, even if it seems they don't want to talk to you. Sometimes, the best time to talk may be when you are in the car together; sometimes it may be when you are doing chores together, allowing your child to focus on something else while they talk," shared Hunter.
Hunter reminded parents that although children may act like they feel immortal, they still want to know that they will be all right and honest discussions of fears and expectations can help high-school students learn to express their own fears.
"If your child struggles with words, encourage him or her to use journaling or art to express emotions. Many children are already feeling extreme highs and lows because of hormonal levels in their bodies; added stress or trauma can make these shifts seem more extreme. Be understanding but firm when children respond to stress with angry or sullen behaviour. Reassure them that you just expect them to do their best," she noted.