“But I don’t want to start school!”
I’ve heard my teenage daughter utter that phrase at least a thousand times in the past week. Well, maybe not quite a thousand, but it sure felt like it! It was so hard to know how to respond.
How could I reassure her that things will be okay, without ignoring her obvious distress about the start of school?
My daughter used to love school. She loved seeing her friends and she even liked her teachers. But then she entered middle school and that’s when it started: the DRAMA. Girl drama, boyfriend drama, homework drama, teacher drama! You name it, there was drama. If only she could channel that drama into theater acting, she might be the next Julia Roberts.
Don’t get me wrong – I get it. I remember that age and frankly, you couldn’t pay me to go back to that time. I didn’t talk to my mother much about the stress of school. Maybe I didn’t think she would understand or maybe I thought she wouldn’t really be able to help. So many times, adults forget that “teenage angst” is truly hard. How could I support my daughter in coping with these situations?
If you’re dealing with a child’s back-to-school dread, here are a few things that can help:
- Listen. Just listen. Sometimes our kids don’t want us to solve the problem – they just want to be heard.
- Give suggestions – if asked. None of us are born with coping skills – we learn them. If your child is open to ideas, give suggestions on ways to handle or cope with situations. Model problem-solving.
- Intervene if necessary. Some problems are truly bigger than what your child can handle independently. If he or she is struggling with being seriously bullied, failing grades or other risky situations, explore if it’s time you intervened at the school administration level. Some situations legitimately call for adult/parent intervention.
When I worry about my daughter and school, I try to remind myself: this is the training ground for the real world. There will be many opportunities for her to practice the coping skills she is learning. She’s going to get her heart broken, she’s going to have friends who let her down and she’s going to cry sometimes. But she’s also going to laugh, she’s going to meet a few lifelong friends and she’s going to have successes. She’s going to learn and she’s going to grow – and as her parent, so will I.
For more ideas on strengthening your child’s coping skills and problem-solving abilities, check out “I Hate School!” What Can I Do When My Child Refuses to Go to School?
Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, is a mother of four and has been a therapist for 15 years. She works with children and families and has in-depth training in the area of substance abuse. Marney and Kimberly Abraham, LMSW, are the co-creators of The ODD Lifeline, for parents of Oppositional, Defiant kids, and Life Over The Influence, a program that helps families struggling with substance abuse issues. Their first children's book, Daisy: The True Story of an Amazing 3-Legged Chinchilla, teaches the value of embracing differences and was the winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Children's Storybook Cover Design Award.