Preparing for a new school year provides an opportunity to do more than get new backpacks, shoes, and notebooks. It’s an excellent time to help your child explore and talk about emotions and mental health.

Many of us experience anxiety when we encounter change, and returning to school can mean significant changes—new routines, new teachers, perhaps new friends, and many unknowns. Ask your child how they feel about the upcoming school year. Listen closely and try not to project your anxiety or concerns. Don’t dismiss their fears. Help them make a list of the following:

  • Things we know, (Lucy will be in my class! My classroom is on the third floor. My teacher is Mr. Gardner.)
  • Things we think we know. (I heard there is a new art teacher. Do we still get pizza for lunch on Fridays?)
  • And things we don’t have a clue about. (I don’t know where my desk is. What day will we have PE?)

Writing a list like this can foster discussions about what is real, what we only imagine is real or might be real, and things we can control and things we cannot. It can also identify things causing anxiety that can be alleviated. A call to the school can answer questions about lunch, new teachers, and PE. The school counselor can be a great resource in answering what might feel like trivial questions. Talking about the school open house or assuring your child you’ll be there on the first day to help them find their desk might relieve unnecessary stress.

This is also an opportunity to explore empathy. Make another list:

  • What might my classmates be worried about?
  • What do I think my teacher is thinking about?
  • How can I help my teacher and classmates on the first day?

Understanding that change, transition, and first days are difficult for almost everyone creates a “we’re all in this together” mentality. Help your child understand that they are not alone with their feelings. They can help by being aware of how others might feel, being patient and understanding, and simply being kind.

Next week we’ll share some mid-grade books that address emotions and mental health.