Helping early adolescents get a great start to the school year
Last night parenting and relationship expert Lynne Reeves Griffin RN, MEd, hosted the Parent Forum, answering questions around the challenging school transition and lifestyle changes that students and parents are experiencing in this very atypical school year. Lynne offered practical tips and strategies that parents of early adolescent students can use to help children get off to a great start.
One of the important ideas shared by Lynne is that parents and children are likely to respond to the opening of the new school year in three predictable ways.
- Students enter the year with ease, make a smooth transition, and function well… or
- Students start the new school year with some anxiety, because they are sensitive to what’s new and different. These students may have some blips, but they find their footing and normalize over time… or
- Students start the school year effortlessly, but a few weeks in, they put on the brakes because they liked the sense of newness more than being in a regular groove.
Lynne shared that if parents tune into how their child is responding to the opening of the school year, it becomes easier to support their child’s success. During a crisis like COVID-19, students may still follow similar patterns, but in a more exaggerated way because of the bigger transition they are making. Parents are likely to see the same root behavior, but it will be more intense or visible. Knowing this ahead of time can help parents be prepared to respond more effectively.
It’s helpful to realize that adolescents are often very aware of their own struggles, and Lynne reminded the parents last night that an effective strategy includes creating the right environment that allows children to share their feelings with parents. As they are moving toward more independence, children want parents to be involved in their struggles in “their way” and not in “the parent’s way.” Parents need to become more skillful at knowing how to talk about healthy boundaries without pushing or over-talking.
Here are some examples shared by Lynne:
- If your child is struggling with things at school, find a calm time to talk about your child’s tendency to do that. Keep your conversation casual: “hey I notice you have a lot on your mind.” Another option may be to brainstorm the problem together or have your child do some journaling. What does your child enjoy doing to calm down? Maybe it’s listening to music or participating in athletics or physical activity.
- If your child is not sharing much with you, you might find a calm moment to say, “I am a little worried about you, but when I ask you questions you don’t want to respond. So what can we do so you can feel more comfortable sharing with me?” You might want to acknowledge to your child that you understand that your caring may be bothering them. It’s okay to have an open dialogue about how you relate to one another. You can help your child understand that it is possible to have healthy ground rules while also respecting the child’s feelings of independence at their age.
- One child didn’t want the parent to be involved in school work. The child had missed several assignments in the past school year, however, and the parent could predict that the child would need some support from home in the new school year. So the parent found a calm time when school work was not being discussed at all. The parent said to the child, “I want to respect the fact that you’ve got everything under control, but the only way I can do that is by checking that you’re on track and then backing off when you can show me you’re keeping up.” The parent asked the child for suggestions for how the parent might be able to check in. The parent was flexible, willing to adapt to the “child’s way” for the parent to be involved, while still holding to the expectation that the student could only become more independent as there was evidence that the child was on top of the school assignments.
At the parent forum last night, Lynne shared a few resources that are helpful to parents in building social-emotional competencies in children. These resources are based on the work of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. This week’s eHighlights has links with more information about the Family Charter and the Mood Meter.