Carrie Yamato

It takes more than just new school supplies and clothing to get your children ready for a new school year.

The key to keeping the stress levels down and the motivation up, is understanding what your children are going through, showing patience and maintaining good lines of communication.

Rolling Hills Estates marriage and family therapist, Gerard Sobnosky shares these tips for a smooth and stress-free year.

For elementary school students: 

One day it's a stomach ache; the next day the grade schoolers just won’t get out of the car. No, they aren't intentionally trying to make you late for work. They are probably trying to tell you that something isn't right.

For this school year try to understand your child's inner world and imagine what he or she is experiencing and why said Sobnosky.

“If they're anxious about the start of the school year, empathize with and validate their feelings and try to learn more about the anxiety," said Sobnosky.

Is your child upset about being away from home? Does she have social anxiety around other kids, or is she worried about academic abilities?

"Kids need parents' help to clarify, verbalize and validate what they're feeling as part of building healthy self-esteem, Sobnosky said.

If you're able to identify specific concerns, work with your child on ways to help her feel she has some agency over the situation.

Once school begins, a predictable routine at home can help reduce anxiety, such as consistent morning, homework, and bed-time routines, suggested Sobnosky.

"It's also helpful to communicate with the teacher, who can be alert if your child is struggling and let you know how he or she is doing at school," the therapist offered.

For middle school students:

With academics becoming more challenging and extracurricular activities becoming more time consuming, it’s hard for middle school students to know how to get everything done, especially when the last thing they want is mom’s and dad’s meddling.

But, according to Sobnosky, children at this age need their parents’ help to build up their time-management skills.  

“It can be frustrating as a parent when you think your child should be better at studying or time management, but this takes years, so be patient and aim for incremental progress where your child gets to feel a sense of accomplishment and a developing sense of mastery, rather than feeling overwhelmed or incapable of the tasks you’re asking him or her to do," said the therapist.

Sobnosky recommends talking to students about the need to develop good study habits by the time they enter high school.

And, student do still need your help, he said.

"Learning to be efficient in overall time management can take until they are in 20s or beyond," Sobnosky added.

For high school students:

High school is all about college prep: honors classes, AP, SAT, ACT scores, and don’t forget those teacher recommendations.

And, while some parents see it as a make-it or break-it situation with a stringent guideline for success, Sobnosky advises that getting into college is not a one-size fits all situation.

“You have to know your child — how driven are they, how confident, how anxious he or she is,” he said, adding the level of college prep you have in mind lines up with what the student wants and the level of stress they can comfortably tolerate. 

Challenging is good, overwhelming isn't, said Sobnosky.

The colleges they are pursuing should be in line with their academic performance and desires.

"Remember the goal is for them to develop into a healthy, happy, confident adult," said Sobnosky. "I see a lot more problems caused by unmanageable anxiety than I do by regrets over not getting into a more prestigious college.”

Whatever age your child is, going back to school isn’t easy.

We, as parents, might view it as summer-chaos relief and the time to get things back in gear, but they have a whole different outlook, which we need to understand and nurture.

Here’s to a great school year!

Gerard Sobnosky is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Rolling Hills Estates, where he offers psychotherapy and psychoanalysis to adults, couples and adolescents.  

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