As we approach the shift from summer vacation to school, students and families will resume a more demanding pace. This transition can trigger anxiety in children of all ages. Starting with preschool, many children will experience their first extended separation from home, requiring considerable adjustment. Adequate preparation for a child entering this new stage of independence is very important. Some children transition easily, warming up to new environments and schedule changes, while others react with strong resistance.

Older children typically experience some angst about the new school year — how their class schedule, the school atmosphere, and peer relationships will all shake out. The anxiety will manifest in different ways, depending on temperament and the child’s comfort in disclosing his unsettling emotions to his parents and family. Be mindful that whatever your child’s age and familiarity with her school, the transition into a new school year will evoke some level of concern. Our own school experiences, with positive and negative memories, will resonate. Wanting what’s best for our child, we try to shape the experience we believe he should have. While it’s difficult to trust he’ll make his own way without our constant supervision and protection, letting go of control is essential to his development. Lecturing, judging, controlling, or pressuring her into being the person we expect her to be will ensure her school experience won’t be her own.

Consider how it would look if we asked different questions, such as: “Does she know how to solve problems and work through conflict? Can he communicate effectively? Is she respectful and kind to everyone, regardless of race, culture, gender, orientation? Does he believe he’s good enough just the way he is? Does she feel unconditionally supported, loved, trusted? Does he take responsibility for his actions, learning from his mistakes? Does she have integrity? How can I be helpful to him?” We teach our children skills through our unspoken modeling, which is shaped by our behavior, our interactions with and treatment of others. Children closely observe us, scrutinizing what we do rather than what we say.

Imagine what each child’s experience would be if we could always be patient, understanding, empathic, and compassionate in addressing his unique struggles, sharing his view of the obstacles blocking his way. Teaching him skills that might still be unavailable to him could help clear the path for his success. We must shift our perspective to appreciate each child’s special gifts: his resilience and his strengths.

Some tips:

Watch your child’s cues, based on his temperament (if he’s slow to warm up, has a high activity level, or difficulty with change, these factors are important to consider).

Allow her to guide you through her cognitive and emotional process. Share the experience through her lens.

If he expresses anxiety, listen to his feelings without judging or trying to fix them. By connecting to his needs, finding ways to help ease the adjustment, you can guide him through any initial struggles.

Develop a collaborative partnership between home and school. Whether your child is starting preschool, kindergarten, or middle school, the transition may bring challenges.

For the more spirited child, school may initially represent an environment with too many new situations. His ambivalence about leaving home for school may create chaos in his family. Irritability, increased activity level, intense reactions, withdrawal, sleep disturbance, lack of cooperation, and sibling battles all suggest underlying anxiety during the adjustment stage. There are conflicting emotions: excitement about moving into this new level of independence and adventure, with anxiety about letting go of the security of home. Listen, listen, listen.

When your child is letting you know she needs patience in respecting and supporting her unique needs, ask her what would be helpful, while maintaining a calm, predictable routine. Discuss her temperament in positive terms, framing this as the special way she approaches new situations, helping her through the roadblocks with minimal impact. Be sure your child is getting plenty of sleep!

Remember to think, “This is who my child is; how can I be helpful to him?” rather than, “Why is he doing this to me?” Find out what works best, what inner strengths he can draw from, maintaining a positive framework from which your child can view himself. Connecting to the emotional root of any protracted difficulty is important. Limit outside activities during the initial adjustment. Facing the challenges of school is easier if a child is encouraged to do more for himself at home. Stay connected with the school to mutually share information. Providing insight to the teacher is extremely helpful in her understanding of your child.

Children move at different paces, developing and maturing on variable schedules. What one child masters may not be what another child does at the same time. How your child learns will be different from other children’s respective approaches. You know your child better than anyone. It’s your job to advocate for him. Older children also can struggle with transitioning into school. Middle or high school students often feel insecure. There’s significant peer, academic, and sports pressure. The separation your child experiences when beginning college can be difficult as well, transitioning into a new phase when you’re still needed, just in different ways.

Listening for distress, while offering understanding and acceptance, provides support. These transitions are your children’s developmental milestones, the rites of passage. How you navigate through these milestones is your connection to the past and your preparation for the future.

Please send me your questions.