1. Start the Dialogue
“If you know a milepost is coming up, talk to them about it,” says Ron Arden, Life Navigator. Try saying:
You’re about to start a new school. How are you doing about that? I know when I was your age and I went to a new school, it was a little scary.
We’re moving out of this area, and you’ll be going to a new school. We’re going to have to make new friends. I think that’s a little scary. What are you feeling about it? What do you think it’s going to be like for you?
“Let them know that their anxieties are normal. Let them know that you understand it, and afterwards ask, ‘How was it for you? Was it as bad as you thought?’ Oftentimes, I suggest parent give their child more information than they need, so that when they come home, they can say, ‘You know, it really wasn’t as bad as you made it out to be.’”
2. Let Your Child Vent
Listen to your child. Try not to interrupt with your running commentary. If you’re thrown off guard by something your child says, tell her you’ll get back to her. Then talk it through with a spouse or friend and when the time is right readdress the topic with your child.
3. Ask Questions
My daughter Lauren never seems stressed about academics – it appears to come easy to her. I mentioned this once, and was surprised to hear that it was not the case. She is stressed but she doesn’t show stress like my other daughter. So, I learned the importance of checking in with my kids and probing a bit. Things are not often what they seem.
4. Eliminate Some of the Surprise
My colleague Denise Young Farrell suggests pointing out details of what’s to come. “My daughter will soon be starting at new program at our local public elementary. When we walk by the school I try to tell her something new about what it will be like. Whether it’s what entrance she’ll use or where she’ll play with her new friends. Just trying to eliminate some of the surprises, as there are sure to be some that sneak up on us!”
5. Help Them Get Organized
Michael Thompson, PhD, consultant, author, & psychologist, points out that middle school can be particularly challenging for boys. “Boys tend to be more to be more scattered. So that middle school is often a very upsetting transition for them because they can’t keep track of their stuff…Moms and dads have to move in and help them with those kinds of organizational challenges in middle school.”
6. Attend Parent Night
For parents of high school and college kids, I recommend taking advantage of the school’s parent orientations as well as any brochures, info sheets and web resources help prepare and educate parents about these transitions. Some of the information is just common sense, but you may learn something. Also, by attending, you’re sending your children a powerful message that you are engaged and that this is indeed an important time for everyone. What’s key, I think, is finding the time to share with the child what you learned. You may get the roll of the eyes and “Yea, yea,” but it’s worth the effort, and it’s easy to do.
7. Establish Guidelines
It’s important to set up rules and guidelines anytime of the year but during times of transition it’s essential. Know where they are, who they’re with and what they’re doing. If your child is heading to college, Vanessa Van Petten, author, consultant and youthologist suggests setting specific boundaries with your child around topics like money, grades and keeping in touch.
8. Make Time to Connect
Parent Partner and mom Lorraine Popper suggests being supportive of your child’s interests during times of transition. “If they’re into a certain type of music, get interested. Show that you care about their life. Spend a little more time together, do activities that they like to do.” Steve Paseirb, president and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org, suggests scheduling family dinners or get-togethers every week and set it in stone just like sports practice. “Use the time to catch up on what’s going on in your kid’s life, including what’s not going well. Stressed kids may feel isolated, which can lead to experimentation with drugs and alcohol. Let them know you love them too much to see them risk getting hurt by experimenting or using.”
9. Give Them Independence
“I feel we should give our kids some autonomy so they don’t feel as if we are suffocating them,” says Tracey Jackson. “Then all they want is to get as far from us as possible.” My colleague Claire Kelly’s daughter is starting high school in Manhattan this fall. This summer Claire let her and her older sister take the subway together from Queens to Manhattan to begin getting her used to the commute. On two occasions, she took the train herself. “That was hard for me,” explains Claire. “But my daughter was so excited and proud of herself, I knew allowing her that bit of independence was worth it.”
10. Be Aware of Red Flags
Be aware of any unusual behavior. Tessa Vining suggests asking yourself, “Are they isolating themselves? Are they locking themselves in the – in their room and not letting you in? Are – has their appearance changed? Are they looking a little bit more rundown? Do they seem a little bit more erratic in their mood?” See warning signs and what you can do about it. See a list of warning signs of drug and alcohol use.
And lastly, as your kids prepare to go back to school, you can help them sail through this transition (and many others to come) by simply letting them know that you’re always there to for them.