Helping Your Child Navigate New Seasons at School

Content provided by CCA Clinic Sponsor, HCA Florida Healthcare
Transitioning from elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, or high school to college can be an intimidating change for children and teens. This article, written by mental health professionals from HCA Florida, sheds light into the academic, social, and emotional pressures they face and offers parents/guardians practical tips to foster a stronger, more supportive relationship with their child(ren). CCA is thankful to have HCA Florida Healthcare sponsor its CCA Fort Lauderdale Clinic for the 7th year in a row.

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Significant changes, such as a new job or moving to a new town, can intimidate anyone – even adults. So, it's no surprise that teens going from one season in school to the next have a lot on their minds.

The common thread for each transition – elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to college – is the feeling of being a small fish in a big pond. With a move to a new school, students may experience added pressure with academics, classmates, rules, and the logistics of a new environment, such as learning to unlock a locker, changing classes, or navigating the cafeteria. Students may also face changes in family dynamics and peer relationships during such transitions.

“The transition of going back to school takes a toll on many children, especially children with developmental issues or others dealing with mental health challenges. Families should know that various necessary treatment options are available and accessible,” said Dr. Krithika Iyer, MD, DFAPA, Diplomate ABPN (Adult and Child Psychiatry), HCA Florida Woodmont Hospital.

For example, children with separation anxiety have difficulty separating from the family to head back to school and often worry about the family members' well-being or safety.

In addition, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have difficulty reorganizing themselves. They may need extra time, attention, and support from families and teachers to stay focused in their classes. Parents must ensure that their child is taking his/her necessary medication if any has been prescribed.

There could also be other scenarios if the school transition is difficult for the child or is very stressful. This can lead to depression or adjustment difficulties, requiring interventions such as counseling or medical treatment.

Transitions: A Breakdown

  • Elementary to Middle School

    Concerns for these students include:

    • Succeeding in more challenging classes
    • Moving from one classroom to multiple classrooms throughout the day
    • Earning the expectations of multiple teachers
    • Making friends and fitting in
    • Changing clothes for P.E. if required

    Children of this age also reach puberty, bringing heightened emotions, uncertainty, and body/hormonal changes to the mix of potential anxieties.

  • Middle School to High School & High School to College

    At this stage, early teens now share a campus and perhaps even classes with young adults, the juniors and seniors at school. Rising ninth graders may worry about:

    • Handling a more rigorous academic load
    • Preparing for college with the right mix of classes and extracurriculars
    • Sharing hallways/classrooms with upperclassmen
    • Making friends and fitting in
    • Handling peer pressure
    • Building confidence in a sense of self

Opening the Lines of Communication

For parents or guardians of teens who aren't particularly chatty, it may be hard to tell how a school transition is affecting them.

Pay attention to changes in behavior. If your child typically comes home and heads straight to his/her room but now comes down and sits on the couch in the family room, that's a change.

Or vice versa, if your child usually comes home and plops on the couch to chat but now heads up right away to their room, that's different.

Mention that you've noticed this change and ask if something is bothering him/her. However, per developmental guidelines, it is common for teenagers to withdraw to focus more on peer relationships.

For students transitioning to college, you may notice some additional changes: decreased communication, struggling to attend classes on time, and declining academic performance.

Another strategy is to engage the kids in one of their favorite activities – playing video games, sports, or a board game. Once their mind is occupied, they will open up, and these topics may come up organically in the conversation.

Coping Skills

The next step is finding the right words and techniques to encourage your child.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Teach calming techniques

    • Breathing
      Ask your child to take a deep breath. Have him/her envision breathing in his/her favorite color and breathing out his/her least favorite color.
    • Mindfulness
      Ask your child to use mindfulness skills (grounding) and to identify five things he/she can see, four things he/she can feel, three things he/she can hear, two things he/she can smell, and one thing he/she can taste.
    • Visualization
      Remind your child to stop and visualize a stop sign before making immediate decisions.

  2. Family interventions

    • Visit the school
      Drive to school on the same route you (or the bus) plan to take. If your child walks or bikes to school, join him/her on the route. Attend open houses so your child can meet teachers, see the classroom, and learn their way around the school.
    • Praise for past success
      Remind your child of his/her strengths and how well he/she did during the last switch to a new school/division. Let your child know that you're confident he/she will have the same success this time around, whether it’s making new friends, getting along with a teacher, speaking up about issues, or trying something new.

  3. Seek more help

    • Contact a professional
      Some students may need more assistance than their parents or guardians can provide to adjust to a new school year. In those cases, speak to your pediatrician, or contact a licensed therapist to pave the way for a successful, happy school year. Also, utilize the school's resources and contact the school's guidance counselor.

    "As your child ventures into the new school year, it is important to remember there is help available. Remember to use open communication, teach coping skills, and show your child how you use coping skills to manage everyday stressors. As parents/guardians, we are constantly modeling how to handle challenges for our children,” said Gloricel Rodriguez-Lebron, LCSW, Manager of Psychiatric Social Services, HCA Florida Woodmont Hospital Mental Health Center.

    As Florida's largest healthcare network, HCA Florida makes it easy for you to access the doctors and mental health services you need close to home. If you just moved to town and need help finding a new doctor, get started here. Calvary Christian Academy is thankful to have HCA Florida Healthcare sponsor the CCA Clinic for the 7th consecutive year.

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