Samara Tilkens Postuma is raising five kids from infant to teen in the St. Michael area with her husband, Jeff. When not found driving kids to and from activities, helping with homework or at the park or pool, you can find her sharing her life online where she does some freelance writing and social media work and also writes at her own blog, www.simplicityinthesuburbs.com.

Back to School Nerves and When To Be Concerned

Posted by: Samara Postuma under Society, Education and literacy Updated: August 25, 2014 - 1:43 PM

It's not entirely uncommon to experience a myriad of emotions with the start to the school year. Even as a parent, I am feeling happy {yay for a schedule and structure again} and sad {boo to a schedule and structure again}. I am excited for my kids, yet miss them already. If this is how I feel as an adult I can only imagine the mix of emotions on our kids.

Some kids will express their nerves by saying, "I'm nervous {or excited, scared, happy...}, still others won't say anything but parents might see a change in behavior while their child adjusts. 

I recently spoke with Dr. Mike Troy, a psychologist at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, and asked him some of his thoughts on back to school nerves.

1. Have patience

"Don't mistake all transitions as a disorder," Dr. Troy said. It's normal for kids to adjust to the start of the school year, to be nervous, to be excited. Just because the first week is an adjustment doesn't mean your child has a clinical diagnosis, it just means be patient and continue to see how they adjust.

2. Compare

Last school year how was your child doing by the third week of school? How were they doing by Halloween? Look back and decide how long the adjustment took last year. Do you see a change in their behavior? Are they typically a happy, outgoing child who now seems withdrawn? Then it might be time to have a conversation with your child's teacher.

How are they doing compared to other kids at the same developmental stage? There is a wide range. 

3. Engage

Most adults are good at identifying externalizing problems but not as good at identifying internalizing problems. So have a conversation. What do you worry about? What does it mean to be a successful student?

Have a conversation with their teacher and find out how it seems they are adjusting if you are concerned. Compare notes at home and school and enlist the help of your child's primary care doctor. "Typically a child's primary care doctor knows the family and the child's development and can help assess if additional help and support is needed," Dr. Troy said.

4. Reflect

What tools have you and/or your child used in other challenging situations? "This isn't a different territory or skill set," Dr. Troy said adding that if trying things that have worked in the past aren't helping it's a concern.

Remember, we all adjust to the start of something new whether that is the start of the school year, a new baby, a new job or any other transition life has. Dr. Troy reminds us "don't see the adjustment and transition as a negative. We need these challenges in our lives. It's easy for parents to automatically see these behaviors as a negative but it's how you grow."

In the end, transitioning, making new friends, expressing nerves about situations like the start of school builds resilience and just as we need exposure to germs for our immune system, we need exposure to these sorts of developmentally appropriate challenges to realize strengths and weaknesses.

What sorts of tips do you have for parents and children nervous about the start of the school year? What has worked in your family in the past?

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