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Happy New “School” Year

Happy New "School" Year

Happy New (School) Year!
By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S

The countdown is on!  Parents rejoice as the first day of school grows near. For some students, however, the back to school blues grow into anxiety, panic, and depression. Parents watch as their happy children and teens begin to show an increase in anger, negative talk, changes in appetite and sleep patterns. Memories are met with fear when recalling the struggles of last year and concern that their is another 9 months of heart ache, fighting, and disappointment headed towards them as the school bell rings. Overwhelmed by the thought of “nothing ever changes,” we doom ourselves to a difficult year. Thankfully their is still time to turn that negative expectation into positive anticipation. Here are a few things that you and your family can do to create a successful and (dare I say) enjoyable new school year.

This is not the end but the beginning
Try to help children, especially younger children, see the new school year not as an end to summer but as a fresh newbeginning. For those of us who spent decades in school, August feels more like New Year’s Eve than December 31st does. To that end, treat it as such. In my house we throw a new “school” year party, while my neighbors are hosting end of summer bashes. Complete with cake and sparkling grape juice, we toast to the new year and celebrate it’s arrival.

Have each member of the family look back and recall good memories from the last year, and write those down in a journal or on a scrapbook page. Follow that activity with goals for the new year, writing down everyone’s top three new year goals. Always include smaller, more easily attainable goals that support the greater overall goal. For example, “My goal is to have a B average.” Great! But how? “Turn in every assignment for the first grading period.”This way they can celebrate and reward themselves all year long rather than at the end of the semester, increasing motivation to continue.

Make a plan
This fits in nicely with creating goals. Youhave to have a plan of action if you ever want to achieve the goals you set for yourself. Remember that plans and goals are not the same thing, and you cannot have one without the other. So make a plan. What will the day look like for your student? What will the day look like for you the parent? What expectations do you each have of one another?

Be sure you ask your children, especially teens, what their expectations are of you. We often skip this part because as parents we are the directors of this production. However, just because we are in charge, we are not exempt from our crew having an idea of what they expect from us. Encourage everyone to be honest about what they want. Designate homework time, where homework will be done, and what will be needed to make the process as painless as possible (for everyone). As the director it is your job to keep the crew on schedule with this plan, so make it a realistic plan that fits with your life as well

Every few weeks reassess the plan. Sitting down once and discussing group needs is great, but it’s only the beginning. The maintenance phase of the plan is even more important than the initial layout. Luckily, most schools have progress reports in addition to final grading reports, setting up a wonderful check-in opportunity. Talk about what is working, what’s not, what changes in the plan need to be made, and reevaluate the expectations.

For younger children, daily or weekly check-ins can be even better. A quick “what was the best part of your day and what was the lowest part” can give you a lot of information about how they are doing and feeling about their classes. We conduct ours during bath time (because my children are early elementary), and the distraction of taking a bath helps them talk more openly than if I sat them down and did a face to face interview style discussion. Every family is unique, so play around with ideas. You will find the best way to come together that works for your family.

Everyday Preparation
This last one is a lofty goal, but will definitely add to an easier and happier school year. Treat each day the way you might a state testing day. The mornings of state assessments are usually met with encouragement, following a full nights sleep, daily clothes and backpacks are ready, and a healthy filling breakfast sits on the table. These steps are long proven to reduce anxiety and increase daily performance, and they do not need to be reserved for special testing days.

Try to add these into your daily routine, with the knowledge that everyday will not be perfect, and that is okay. Most likely you will find that setting this expectation for yourself and your student, while not completed perfectly, will happen on the majority of days. Intentions and expectations go a long way towards implementing positive behaviors.

As the final weekend of summer approaches I hope you and your family find those moments of excitement and joyful anticipation for the new year. Shake off the old and ring in the new with a fresh beginning! Happy New Year to all!!

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