Back to school angst

Keeping kids safe for a new school year.

Often what is portrayed about back to school time is exciting, joyous and idealistic, but may not resonate with the reality of returning to difficult peer relations or struggling academics.

How can we support children and families facing real emotions and circumstances around back to school?

Strengthen resiliency

This is no small task, but so vital. Through trusting relationships built on consistent, unconditional love children can develop a foundation and have an anchor during difficulties. Caregivers that model fairness, honesty, and the ability to recognize and name feelings and provide a space for exploration with constant reinforcement can also build children’s resiliency. A child’s autonomy is fostered by teaching skills, encouragement, a schedule and rules.

Create a safety plan

Anticipating situations and developing action steps can build confidence, decrease anxiety, and helps a child feel safer. Ideas may include:

  • Self-care: counting backwards from 10, reminding yourself what you hear is not true, take a deep breath
  • Physical space: walking away, staying near other trusted people
  • Involve others: documenting, talking with, seeking help
  • Us your voice: tell the person to stop or back off

Standing up

Assertive responses are more likely to defuse situations while aggressive reactions are more likely to inflame and provoke others and make the situation worse. Examples include setting good boundaries, relaxed facial expression, standing tall, having a calm voice, asking for what you want, defending your rights or the rights of others, respecting the person and a having a controlled demeanor.

Each time a young person (or adult) practices an assertive response, fearful and helpless thoughts are replaced by strong and confident ones.

Literature has the power to open communication, provide practice with role playing, spur problem solving and assist in building supportive relationships. Some children’s book suggestions include:

  • Don’t Call Me a Tattletale, by Kimberly Koskos. Ages six and up.
  • Stand in My Shoes, by Bob Sorenson. Ages four and up.
  • Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell. Ages five through eight.
  • King of the Playground by Phyllis Reynolds. Ages four through eight.
  • The Juice Box Bully; Empowering Kids to Stand Up for Others by Bob Sorenson and Maria Dismondy. Ages 4 and up.

Children and families can gain power and tap their wisdom by communicating, preparing and planning for the upcoming school year. Michigan State University Extension cares about these issues in the lives of families and communities. Resources are available through the BeSafe initiative

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