Getting bullied, moving to a new school, struggling academically or having trouble with self-confidence and body image. Regardless of age and grade, these are timeless problems your kids may be encountering when they’re heading back to school.
“Back to school is a busier and hectic time when your kids have to go from the freedom of summer to the structure of school,” Dr. Shimi Kang, a Vancouver-based psychiatrist and author, told Global News.
“Some kids love heading back to the classroom setting and are anticipating the first day back but others might be anxious. Parents can pick up on signs or talk to their kids to see which side of the spectrum their kids fall on,” Kang said.
Global News asked Kang, and other parenting experts, for their tips on how to handle four common problems your kids may be grappling with as the new school year begins.
Problem 1: Your child is getting bullied at school or isn’t making friends
Getting picked on at school is incredibly embarrassing, so your child may not admit that they’re getting bullied by their peers, parenting author, Ann Douglas, told Global News. Instead, you need to focus on how your child is behaving instead of what he or she is saying.
Your child could have unexplained injuries, missing or damaged property, they could be reluctant to go to school, and eating or sleeping more or less than usual.
Parents need to talk to their kids about what they’ve observed and offer help.
“He’ll be reassured to hear that he doesn’t have to deal with this on his own – although he may also be very afraid of what might happen if you were to become involved,” Douglas said.
“You can help to alleviate that worry by letting him know that you’ll follow his lead as much as possible while also fulfilling your parenting responsibility to do your best to keep him safe,” Douglas offered.
Let your kids know that bullying is extremely common and they shouldn’t blame themselves for what’s happening.
WATCH: A teacher from Staffordshire, England explained the dangers of bullying to kids using two apples. She posted the experience on Facebook and it’s now going viral.
Problem 2: Your child is going to a new school where he/she won’t know any familiar faces
For starters, don’t brush aside your child’s legitimate worries – acknowledge that it can be scary to start at a new school. Remind your child that it’s okay to miss old friends and to feel anxious about becoming familiar with a whole new school routine, Douglas said.
“At the same time, try to encourage him to remain open to the possibility that this could be a positive experience. Remind him that sometimes excitement can masquerade as anxiety and that nervous excitement isn’t always a bad thing,” Douglas said.
Then you can work on providing your child with a sense of control. From kindergarten to high school, getting lost is a universal nightmare – wandering the halls, looking for homeroom, the washroom or gym class. But this is easily resolved.
“Look for a copy of your school’s floor plan on the school website. And don’t be afraid to ask for directions when you get to school,” she advised. Keep in mind, there will be teachers, guidance counsellors and other staff on hand during the busy first week.
Encourage your kids to get to know the neighbourhood kids heading to the same school, too.
Problem 3: Your child isn’t getting good grades or is struggling academically
If your child is struggling in school, she won’t say it outright either so be prepared to read between the lines.
She could complain about the teacher, act out in class, or talk about how the material is boring. She could skip, show up late or even complain about a tummy ache or feeling unwell to get a sick note, Kang said.
“They could be forgetting textbooks or pencils and doing things that drive parents crazy. We think it’s kids not paying attention but it happens more when you’re disengaged with a subject,” Kang said.
Help your child brainstorm solutions once you’ve identified a problem. This will give her the chance to practice self-advocacy skills, such as asking the teacher for help, or getting a tutor to work on subjects that need improvement.
Being proactive before class starts helps your child feel more comfortable, too.
“Do some browsing on the Internet with children to see what their new curriculum will be so they have a preliminary sense of what to expect,” says Dr. Elizabeth Sloat, an education professor at the University of New Brunswick.
“Find another child in the neighbourhood who’s just completed the grade or school your child is entering and arrange for the two of them to talk,” Sloat suggests.
Problem 4: Your child is lacking self-confidence, or has body image issues
Check in with your child to see how they’re feeling about their body image, confidence with public speaking or any other issues.
If they’re nervous about an issue, such as reading out loud, practice breathing exercise and start an informal book club at home so they can share their thoughts in a comfortable setting.
Weight and body image concerns are legitimate, Kang notes.
“This is an area of high pressure for all ages in the world,” she said. Checking in is key so you can dispel any misunderstandings or explain what’s going on with their growing bodies, such as puberty and growth spurts.
Kang said you can ask your kids outright what they think could help them feel better about themselves: if it’s a weight issue, you could carve out a healthy eating plan and exercise as a family, for example.
Make sure your kids know that things won’t always be as tumultuous as they are right now and that you’re there to support them, Douglas said.
“It’s important to help children hold on to hope when they’re grappling with difficult issues. They need to know that they’re not alone, that they’re not a burden, and that they can count on you for practical assistance and moral support,” she told Global News.