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Back-to-School Challenges

The Christmas song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" can be heard around my house in August, sung by my husband, Mike. His singing is meant to tease our three boys about the impending start of school. Like most kids, the Slattery boys are typically not super thrilled about the first day of school.

Along with earlier bedtimes and homework, kids often lament a new school year because it means adjusting to change. While some kids love change, for others it creates fear and worry.

"Will I like my new teacher?" "Who will I sit with at lunch?" "What if the work is too hard for me?" "What if I don't make any friends?" These are all questions that can keep a 6-year-old — or a 16-year-old — up at night in the weeks leading up to the start of school.

School Anxiety

The first thing you can do to help your children make it through "new school year anxiety" is to validate their feelings. Many kids can't articulate why they feel apprehensive. Instead, they simply start showing physical signs of anxiety such as changes in eating and sleeping patterns, moodiness or irritation.

Ask your children questions regarding their feelings about the school year starting. You might even ask what your children are most excited and most nervous about. Then, explain that it is normal to feel jitters before school starts.

Work Through the Fear

You can also help your kids by reducing the number of "unknown" factors leading up to the school year. Find out what you can about a new teacher, a new school and what friends will be attending school with your child.

If your school offers an open house to meet teachers and organize lockers, take advantage of it. If you have children just starting junior high or high school, you might walk through their schedule for the day.

When school starts, help your child with tangible displays of your confidence and affection. For example, you might give your younger daughter a necklace to wear, or your son a little teddy bear to carry in his backpack as a reminder that "Mom and Dad are praying for you." For older kids, leave notes of encouragement hidden in their notebooks or lunch sacks.

Create a Worry-Free Zone

Finally, remember that your children feed off your emotions. For example, if you are nervous about your firstborn heading off to kindergarten, your child will pick up on your anxiety.

Your children need your prayer, confidence and encouragement as they embark on a new school year, no matter their age. But Christmas tunes? You might want to skip them!

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