How to support your child’s return to school

As we prepare our children for the return to school, while it is a very exciting time for many, for some it can bring with it feelings of unease, uncertainty and trepidation. Those butterflies in the stomach are completely normal as we face challenges or change, and it is important to work with those feelings, not against them.

Whether it be concerns around starting a new school, a desire to explore new friendship circles or being away from parents or support structures, there are some strategies that parents can adopt which will help ease the transition back to school and reframe the experience.

Positively label feelings

One of the greatest techniques to use is in labelling those feelings with a positive slant. Feelings of unease, discomfort or anxiety are incredibly similar to excitement. So change your language and reset your brain. When those butterflies appear, simply say “I’m excited” and give those butterflies a new purpose. I have utilised this technique with many students over my time, particularly with students around examination times. They have become accustomed to looking at me as they walk into an examination room, with a big smile on their face and saying to me “Don’t worry Mrs Kendall, I’m super excited”, and while we both know that this reframing is just an opportunity to redirect energy, for those with a natural feeling of nervousness it certainly guides our bodies natural response in the right direction.

Exam study

We have to remember that these feelings are our body preparing us for action. In the case of examinations or starting a new school year, we are given the resources we need through a fight/flight response. We then have the resources to fight, confront the new challenge, or flee, removing ourselves from the challenge. But what if your child’s experience at the start of a school year is more intense than something that can be shaped through simple reframing.

Create a perfect platform

Leading psychologist in the realm of child and adolescent development, Dr Lisa Damour, presented her research in a recent webinar, ‘Helping girls manage intense emotions’. The presentation focused on teenage meltdowns and psychological distress. If young women experience high levels of emotional distress it is important to recognise that it is not just one factor that will ease those feelings, instead we need a perfect platform in which to explore them. Clear mind, clear time, clear opportunity. Some of Lisa’s tips to create this are;

Top 7 Tips

Tip #1 - Sleep: To successfully deal with psychological distress, teenage girls need 9-10 hours of sleep per night.

Tip #2 - Take time for your daughter to verbalise her feelings, this lowers cortisol levels and provides direct relief.

Tip # 3 - Take the time to be curious and show empathy about your daughter's experiences to help them self-regulate their emotions.

Tip #4 - For young people who do not like to talk, self regulation occurs through activities such as exercise, art or listening to music that matches their mood.

Tip #5 - Distraction can help regain perspective and find emotional relief.

Tip #6 - Asking your daughter to express what they can control helps reduce stress.

Tip #7 - Walk alongside your daughter rather than talk face to face, to help them verbalise their feelings.

There is no one technique that works for all but the most important lesson remains in working with these feelings and not against them. There is little value in diminishing or dismissing their experience, however, there is great value in reframing, understanding and challenging unrealistic thoughts or expectations.

We encourage all parents to allow their child the opportunity to learn and grow through their emotions. Learning how to accept feelings, label emotions and embrace uncomfortable situations will build resilience, giving children the confidence that no matter what challenges they face, they have the tools and resources to overcome them.

At Toorak, the most important thing we do is normalise the experience of human emotion. We seek to understand, unpack and reframe so that our students use their complex, colourful array of emotional experiences to enhance the experience that awaits them.

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