For those extroverted kids, going back to school can be exciting: tons of friends to see again. New ones to make. Things to look forward to, such as school events, hanging out before and after school, and the cafeteria at lunch.
For those kids who are naturally introverted, socially awkward, on the autism spectrum, anxious, shy or whatever label you like, it can be very stressful.
Cheryl Perera is a licensed clinical social worker for Baylor Scott & White Outpatient Mental Health in Round Rock, Texas, and the mother of two such children herself. First, she wants kids to know that it’s OK to be an introvert. It’s OK to be anxious about returning to school. It’s OK to feel awkward. Parents should honor kids’ feelings and invite them to continue to share their feelings.
She has some suggestions for making the back to school transition easier:
Model how to communicate. Give kids strategies for what to do when meeting someone new. Some tips she shares are to pay a compliment to the other person or ask a question about what they like to do to help find some common ground.
Give kids talking points. Have them figure out their hobbies or interests so they have something to talk to other kids about.
Be supportive, but not a “fixer.” If they have a rough day, sympathize with them, then ask open-ended questions to get them talking. Ask them what they think they could do differently the next day and have them come up with their own ideas.
Honor their feelings and invite them to continue to share their feelings with you. You can share a time when you felt awkward or nervous.
Have a 504 plan or an individualized education plan if you need it. Things such as autism and anxiety can qualify a child for special services. Schools often have social emotional learning classes for kids who struggle with talking to their peers.
Have an emotional safety plan. Help them anticipate what could happen with friendships and what their responses will be. Give them strategies for what happens when they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Where will they go? What will they do? Which adult will help them?
Find a supportive other adult. For kids, they might need a psychologist to talk to, but they also could have a trusted teacher, Scout leader or parent of a friend to talk to as well.
If school hasn’t yet
Go to orientation or Meet the Teacher. It’s a relaxed setting for kids to make connections before school starts.
Sign up for activities. If they can start before the school year begins, it can give kids a chance to start interacting and slowly build relationships before school is “on” and they have to sit at the lunch table.
Have a party and invite other kids. Make it an active party where the kids are doing something. Communication will happen naturally if they are active.
Hang out in the neighborhood park or pool. Your kids will find other kids who will be at their school. School won’t feel so awkward if they’ve seen some of their peers before.
Prepare for the first day of school. Know that as soon as you leave or as soon as they get on the bus, they probably will be fine. If it’s a big transition year like kindergarten or the first day of middle school or high school, know that it often looks worse than it is. Help by packing the backpack and lunch the night before and picking out what to wear.