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Easing the transition: Areas of stress for young students, tweens, teens

Melissa Erickson, More Content Now
Easing the transition: Areas of stress for young students, tweens, teens
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The unknown is stressful for students entering a new school or a new school year. It’s never easy transitioning from one environment to another, but parents can help with the adjustment.

The best way is to offer plenty of patience, understanding and support, said J. Spencer Clark, assistant professor of curriculum studies in Kansas State University’s College of Education.

Allowing your child to make her own choices in areas that may be important to her will help her feel more powerful and confident, said Lori Levin, assistant professor of elementary literacy in Kansas State University’s College of Education. A student will feel a sense of ownership in the process of preparing for school if he is allowed to choose what to bring for lunch or eat in the school cafeteria, for example.

“Any time kids have a choice, it’s freeing. Choice is a huge motivator for children and teens alike,” Levin said.

Long days for little ones

Creating a household routine can ease the transition for students going into full-day kindergarten or first grade. They may come home from school tired, irritable, fussy and hungry for the first few weeks of full school days, whether they go to day care afterward or come straight home, Levin said. It may take some time to get adjusted to the high level of activity that the school day brings.

To help prepare them for long days, Levin recommends having children go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until they reach the ideal bedtime, using blackout window shades if necessary. Elementary-age children need 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night to function at their best, Levin said.

Mornings are important as well. The professors advise offering healthy breakfast foods or having high-protein granola bars on hand that children can eat on the way to school.

“It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but they do need to have something in their tummies before they head off to school for hours of learning,” Levin said.

Older kids, different challenges

For middle-school students, the transition also includes changing bodies and moving into adulthood.

“Studies show that the No. 1 thing that helps kids be resilient through middle school is knowing they have one adult in their life, whether it’s a parent, teacher, coach or clergy member, who they can rely on,” Levin said.

Levin advises parents to share honestly with their children about their school experiences, including the fun times, the challenging times and how they overcame difficulties. Also, it is key for parents to ask about and acknowledge their children’s feelings about school.

“Listening attentively and without judgment is so important,” Levin said.

Teens look to future

Students entering high school have to cope with the pressure of how their decisions at school will affect their futures, as well as balancing activities and homework, Clark said.

Parents can help by discussing the teen’s schedule, helping teens decide when they should work on homework, and assisting them in selecting extracurricular activities that relate to their strengths and goals, Levin said.

“Studies of feedback from high schoolers show they are under tremendous pressure, which they put on themselves and feel from parents to get good grades, be in a sport and get into a great college,” Levin said. “Having reasonable expectations is important. So many teens try to do it all and get overwhelmed. Having some downtime without technology is really important.”

— Melissa Erickson,
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