Back to School Jitters? Or a Bigger Issue?
On the first day of school it’s hard to tell who is more nervous, parents or students. You all want the school year to be a success, but there is some doubt and worry that it mightnot go as well as hoped. First day excitement and nervousness is very normal. Some students get excited by a new school year full of old friends and new experiences. Other students worry about new teachers, keeping up with the demand of a new grade, and just the overall unknown, which is also completely normal.
Over the course of the first few days to weeks of the school year, most students will start to settle into the rhythm and routine of the new school year. Some students may even take a month or longer to fully settle into the new school year, which can also be completely normal.
How do you know your student is on the path to settling down for the new school year and not dealing with potentially larger issues? And what do you do if they don’t settle into the year? There are some red flags to watch for that that would indicate that their school may not be a good fit:
School Refusal – if your child refuses to go to school, that’s a problem. Sometimes it’s not as clear-cut as them saying they won’t go; it could be the child is hard to get out of bed in the morning; or they are so slow moving that they are perpetually late. Complaints of Illness- Some children complain of physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches, and stay home. Chronic or unexplained illness can be an indicator there is something not right at school.
Melt Downs – Does your child hold it together when he/she is at school, but then falls apart when he/she comes home? This may be a sign that your child is working really hard at school, maybe too hard. When your child is working hard and stressed out, they need a release. Home is a safe place to decompress and let it out. Unfortunately, parents are often at the receiving end of this meltdown and feel helpless on what to do to sooth and console their child. Teachers may report that the child does “just fine” at school.
Changes in Behavior or Mood: Is your previously happy child now moody? Are they acting out? This may be a sign that something is not okay at school. Most students (and many adults) don’t have the self-awareness to notice and verbalize that they are unhappy, overwhelmed, and need help. Instead, it comes out in their behavior and mood.
School Performance – I often hear from parents, “My child used to love school but now is struggling”. As students progress through middle and high school, the workload goes up… A LOT. Many students who previously got by on their smarts now need to study and do homework. Many of them don’t know HOW to study or do homework efficiently. Also, when a student has been repeatedly told they are super smart, they often shy away from challenging tasks, worried that everyone will figure out that they aren’t as smart as they’ve been told they are.
What do you do if your child is not settling into their new school and showing signs that it may not be a good fit? First: Congratulate yourself on being there for your student and recognizing they need help. Next: Get help!
Does it seem to be anxiety? If so, a good child therapist can make a world of difference. Does your child struggle with organization? Perhaps a tutor can help with executive functioning skills. Those adjustments and support might be the missing pieces to a successful school year. Or, you may know in your heart of hearts that what your child really needs is a different learning environment. If your previously organized or happy student is no longer, you can look for a school that will be a better fit.
There is not a one size fits all school for all students. Some students thrive in large schools and others are easily lost in the chaos. Some kids thrive in smaller schools and others get restless. Students who are auditory learners, extroverts, people-pleasers, and organized, do very well in large mainstream schools. But what if that is not your child? If your child struggles with anxiety, executive functioning, or seems to be falling through the cracks, they may need a smaller educational setting that can individualize their
instruction and help them love learning again.