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Take The Stress Out Of Returning To School | Jewish Connected
Akiva Meir Hersh

Sending your kids back to school creates a flurry of activity for you and your family. It is time to buy supplies, try on clothes, meet the teachers, work out the morning routine, and a host of other “to-­dos” for your checklist. In the middle of all of this excitement and anticipation, it is important to consider what emotions are going on in your child so that you can better prepare them for the upcoming year.

Access Your Child’s Inner Experience

First, think back to your own experiences returning to school after the summer. Were you anxious? Scared? Did you look forward to some aspects of being in school again and dread others? Notice your internal responses to going back to school and then observe and listen to your child to see if they are having similar feelings.

Second, imagine that you are in your child’s skin, so to speak. As they take those first steps through the doors of their school, what are they going to see, hear, and feel that you might want to talk with them about before they go? What are some potential pitfalls? What strengths and resources reside in your child that you can remind them of to help them cope?

Third, simply ask your child how they are feeling. Let them express, from their own perspective, what is going on for them in their thoughts and feelings.

Remember to validate their experience rather than argue with it. For example, if your daughter says that she is scared of her new teacher, it would not be useful to respond: “Scared? What do you have to be afraid of? Your sister had Mrs. So-­and-­so and she’s a nice lady!” Instead, make sure she feels heard. Let her know what the purpose of fear is (to help us better prepare for situations that are new) and remind her of how she has, in the past, met fear with curiosity and strength.

5 Things To Do To Optimally Get Your Children Back To School

  •  Start the morning routine a week or two before school begins.
  •  Help your child get plenty of sleep (8-12 hours is recommended).
  •  Go visit the school with your children before the summer is over. If school has already begun in your area, go ahead and visit anyway. Children feel safer at a place where their parents have been and can rely on that memory to draw strength and comfort.
  • Consistently show your child that you are excited about the new year and that you feel confident that they will learn a great deal and do well. Your confidence and encouragement will definitely rub off on them in a positive way.
  •  Make a point to talk with your child daily about his or her experiences for that day. Avoid asking questions that your child can answer with a simple “yes” or “no.” These are conversation killers. An alternative is a discussion that I call the “Hi/Lo Report.” Ask your kids, “So what was the high point of your day?” “What are you proud of?” “What went well?” And then, “What was the low point?” “What do you wish you would have done differently?” “What feelings got in the way of you having more highs?”

The “Parent” Model of Coping

Finally, keep this model in mind to help your child deal with problems that will inevitably come up as a result of returning to school:

Prepare-­ failure takes adequate planning; even more so success. You know your child better than anyone so go ahead and project possible mishaps and proactively bring resources to them ahead of time. It is a good idea to “scaffold” a challenging experience with positive emotions, resourceful stories/metaphors, and other kinds of support that only you can give.

Ask-­ get the child talking to you (which means you will be doing a lot of listening not lecturing) and maintain rapport.

Remind-­ in the middle of a bad experience (or a negative emotion) it is easy for your son or daughter to forget how capable s/he really is. Help them visualize past, positive memories and talk about experiences where they came out stronger.

Encourage­- show and tell your children how great they are. Returning to school is an important time to boost your child’s self­esteem by pointing out what great character traits they have developed over time.

Negotiate-­ when overwhelmed, sometimes children opt to break down and rigidly close up. This is the perfect time to negotiate between what you want and what your child wants. If you model flexibility, your child will, in time, respond in kind.

Touch-­ one of the best remedies for stress is positive physical contact. Your children crave it more than you realize. Before they go off to school for the day, hug them, pat them on the shoulder, tousle their hair, do whatever physical action speaks love to them; all the while demonstrating a playful, supportive state. When they come home from school, be at the door to show them how happy you are to see them. If you cannot greet them at that time, make a point to show them physical affection the moment you arrive home from work.

Stay Alert and Get Help

With G­d’s help, all will be well and your children should have a wonderful start to the school year. At the same time, as responsible parents, we must stay alert and watch for signs of anxiety, depression, anger, bullying and G­d forbid, suicidal thoughts/actions. If your child is struggling and you need professional help, talk to your rabbi, speak with school officials, and reach out for help as early as possible.

The professionals at Chai Life Coaching are trained to assist children of all ages with negative emotions, ADHD and other learning challenges as well as behavioral problems. If you are a teacher or administrator at a school, a rabbi or a person responsible for educating young children and families, Chai Life Coaching offers parent/teacher training and group mentoring options.

Contact Akiva Meir Hersh, founder of Chai Life Coaching, by calling: 972.866.4TOV or by emailing chailifecoaching@gmail.com

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Akiva Meir Hersh

As a mental health professional, Akiva Meir Hersh's vocation is to help families and individuals reach an achievable level of mental health and overall wellness. As a trainer and consultant, he assists organizations in reaching their next stage of success. His work draws upon a robust body of knowledge from repeated consulting engagements with successful for-profits and nonprofits for over twenty years.

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  1. August 27, 2014

    I like the parent model of coping! Easy to remember and encompasses all. Although in my mind I changed the A to attitude. I think a positive attitude from a parent makes it that much easier for kids. Just my two sense:) Great article!

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