By Susan Stiffleman
As the new school year begins, more than a few children are struggling with first day jitters. Some may go so far as to dig in their heels, refusing to even get on the bus when the dreaded day arrives, leading to escalating punishments and bribes from Mom and Dad.
One parent may threaten, "If you don't get on the bus this minute, young man, you're going to be grounded for a month!" while another offers cash if their youngster will just cooperate.
Some kids are simply playing their parents, hoping to delay the inevitable or make some pocket money by pitching a fit. But there are others who are genuinely terrified to step back onto the schoolyard after having endured an awful year at the hands of bullies. For children who have been the victims of taunting and teasing in the past, the thought of heading into another school year can be unbearable, regardless of Mom and Dad's well-meaning pep talks, or their promises that this year will be different.
If you have a child who is legitimately anxious about returning to school, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Encourage your child to avoid engaging with kids (crying, whining, pouting) if they bother him. Displays of weakness offer bullies the reaction they're looking for. The best first response is to simply walk away.
- Help empower your child with role plays that teach her body language and verbal tools she can use to deter a would-be bully. "No! Back off! Stop bugging me!" can help communicate a level of assertiveness that will make a child less of a viable target.
- Talk with the teacher or principal about arranging a meeting with kids who have been bullies to establish clear, firm consequences for any and all unkind behavior.
Most importantly, allow your child to offload her concerns freely, and don't engage in debates when she announces that she's quitting fourth grade. Offer empathy and support: "I understand you're afraid of going through more of the awful things that happened last year. We're going to make some changes so that doesn't happen anymore.
Give your child the chance to express her fears, work with the school to establish a strong No-Bullying policy, and empower your child so she feels safe at school, and those school jitters will become a thing of the past.
Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.