Guest Blogger: Katie Fries, LCSW, RPT
1. Hold assumptions at the door
It can be very easy (and understandable!) to assume that the struggles you faced in middle school are the same ones your child will experience: mean girls, peer pressure, opening lockers—you name it. And while some of those fears seem to stand the test of time (have they changed those dang padlock lockers?!), others will change based on both new forms of communication (like social media) as well as your child’s individual strengths and challenges. If we assume that children are concerned about peer pressure and talk with them all about how to “say no to drugs” when what they are actually concerned about is where they will sit at the lunch table, they may end up feeling unsupported and be less likely to disclose about the things that are actually stressing them out. A couple of helpful questions to ask are: “What are you most excited about?” and “What are you most nervous about?”. Asking those questions not only normalizes the feelings of excitement and nervousness, but it also gives them the opportunity to express what they need from you. That support may be similar or different from what was originally imagined.
2. Provide opportunities to practice
Often the fears a child holds can be minimized by knowing what to expect. The fear of being late to class because they weren’t able to open their locker can be greatly decreased by becoming an expert at opening a padlock at home. The fear of getting lost in the hallways can be solved by walking from class to class before the first day of school. The fear of knowing how to say no to a party while saving face can be decreased by creating a plan or code word to use if they need you to assert that they’re not allowed to go out. While many schools offer the option of a tour for incoming students, if your child seems particularly anxious about starting somewhere new, it might be worth asking for a private tour of the space to assuage those fears. Again, it is important to attend to your child’s individual needs, as practicing or rehearsing something unnecessarily can unintentionally send the message that you doubt their ability to manage new situations.
3. Take care of yourself!
Having a child transition to a new phase of life can bring up feelings of joy, grief, and uncertainty. Fears can easily arise such as: “Will my child be okay?” “Have I prepared them well enough?” and “What can I do to make sure my child doesn’t have to go through what I did?”. To avoid the trap of projecting anxiety onto your child, it’s a good idea to be curious about and validate any challenges during transitions that come up for you. This way you can accompany your child on their own journey in a way that’s healthy for them. Some of the challenges they will face will mirror your own, and some will be different. Knowing you believe in their capacity to manage stress and navigate this new time in life is the most effective way to help them have that same confidence in themselves!