Back-to-school season is already a mix of excitement, nerves, and anticipation. For military families who have recently PCSed, or for any families starting in a new town or school this fall, the return to the classroom might come with additional challenges. Ashley Jensen, Senior Manager of Clinical Practice and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Cohen Veterans Network, offers five tips to help your children ease the transition into a new school year:
Hear the negatives. Military families are especially adept at overcoming obstacles to move forward with the mission but remember to listen to your child first before jumping to a solution. Validating concerns without passing judgment can be a key step in the problem-solving process.
Example:A PCS move often means leaving friends behind and can bring up feelings of loss especially for older kids and teens. Acknowledge this loss and when ready, invite them to talk about if or how they want to stay in touch with their friends.
Plan for contingencies. New schools and new places can come with new worries, too. Ask your child what they’re concerned about and strategize together.
Example: If a child is taking a bus to and from school for the first time and is worried about missing their bus – plan for what to do if this happens. “If you miss the bus, call me and I’ll come to get you.”
Offer autonomy. Have a conversation with your child about what they are interested in pursuing this year or what their hopes are for this new place. For military children who did not have a choice in their recent move, following their lead can help them regain a sense of control.
Example: Rather than automatically enrolling your child in all the same activities they did at their old school, discuss it together and include them in the decision making.
Everything is an experiment. No one knows Murphy’s law better than a military family… so even when things do not go according to plan, remind your child (and yourself!) that this was an experiment, note what you learned, and try something new next time.
Example: If a child was disappointed that they did not have anyone to sit with at lunch, brainstorm what they could try tomorrow, such as inviting another classmate who is sitting alone to join them.
Celebrate tiny wins. Wrap up each evening as family with the day’s highs and lows – and be sure to celebrate every tiny win. When we celebrate the small wins, we are much more motivated to try again.
Example: If a child who was nervous about making new friends took the brave step to talk to a new classmate today, acknowledge this victory together!
Bonus Tip: Build time in the schedule for YOU!
Yes, amid coordinating logistics, maintaining your household, and setting your children up for academic and social success – it is still critical to take care of yourself. When it comes to their children, many parents feel a sense of urgency or significance in nearly every aspect – but remember, some things really can wait until tomorrow and you can’t pour from an empty cup.