BOD Post Card8 web klein

From an adult perspective it is sometimes easy to forget how stressful going back to school can be for children and teenagers. We might look back nostalgically at a time in our youth when we felt freer from adult responsibilities, enjoyed spending more time with our friends, and learning new things. At the same time we might also remember our own childhood experiences of struggling to fit in, wanting to be accepted and maybe finding school hard.

Both of these perspectives can shadow the way we support our children or the young people we look after. In truth it is normal for children to sometimes have ambivalent feelings about the new school year. There maybe the excitement of seeing old friends or meeting new people, and at the same time there might be anxiety about how they will cope with a new classmates, teachers, schoolwork, a change in classrooms, and even a new school altogether. In our youth most of us were told that ‘not to worry you’ll be ok’ but actually what a child needs most is to hear that these feelings are all normal and ok.

The questions - ‘Will I make friends? - Will I fit in? - Will I be bullied? -Am I clever enough? And what if I hate it here?’ are all very real concerns for young people. Each child will have their own area that worries them and these often change over time depending on their age and stage in the school system. Although we might think as adults with more responsibilities we have less freedom to make choices, what we should not forget is how little choice our children have about going to school for at least 10 years of their 16 year old short life. During their day they may have to do many things that they find challenging with people they do not choose to be with, and this can be hard and even awkward for some children or teenagers. On top of this they are being tested regularly and can experience shame when they do not meet up to requirements. All this before their brains, physical bodies and emotional development are fully mapped. No wonder they feel like they have little choice as kids and can’t wait to be a grown up!

As adults we can help young people to process all these questions and concerns by taking the time to ask our children and the young people we look after how they feel about going back to school. This time should be planned when you are likely to be uninterrupted by other people or digital devices. If you can sit with the child and ask open -ended questions like ‘ Have you any concerns/worries about going back/being back at school? - What are you most looking forward to? - What are you most worried about?’ Try to actively listen to what they are saying and not interrupt. Keep asking if there is more they would like to say. It is often hard to hear your child tell you if they are unhappy about going back to school or even refuse to go back. But if you can let them just talk freely, and show you are listening and care about their answers, then often they can find their own way of coping with uncomfortable feelings. If your child appears to be very emotional or stuck in their negative feelings you might want to ask them about how they have coped with similar feelings before or give a clear example of when you have witnessed them cope positively in the past. Encourage them to recognise that they have felt this way in the past and that things have worked out positively in the end. If your child talks about concerns about being bullied or that they find school work hard, show that you take them seriously. Ask if it is ok to take notes but make it clear that you will not be sharing this information with their teachers or school without their consent. Use these notes to explore in detail what their concerns are and how they would like you to act on them. Just knowing that you care enough to take them seriously can help them to come up with their own strategies to survive and thrive.

Remember that ‘Back to School’ does not mean the first day only, it can take several weeks for everyone including parents to settle in to the new school year routine. Keep asking the questions and keep listening. If you are concerned as parents, or think your child would benefit from contacting the free, confidential and anonymous Online Help service for children, youth and parents in English then visit www.kjt.lu

Happy New School Year!