It’s that time of year again when change is in the air. Whether teenagers are entering middle school, starting high school or going off to college, they put up with a lot of transitions and changes in their lives.
Think back to how daunting it was to maintain old friendships and start fresh ones, navigate an unfamiliar school, and fulfill the expectations of new teachers. These transitions can create stress and behavioral problems. As parents, we can help support our children in times of change by doing the following:
Avoid “red-flag” language. Statements like “teachers will expect more from you now” increase stress and distract teens from starting school with an open attitude. Let them express their own opinions and concerns. Ask open-ended questions (those that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no).
Have a healthy attitude. Our children take cues from us, so it’s important to have a healthy attitude towards change yourself. Don’t let your concerns cloud their experience.
Be supportive. If your teen is nervous about the upcoming school year, provide reassurance that you will be there to help. Acknowledge fears and anxieties and brainstorm ways to get through them rather than dismissing feelings with statements like, “Everything will be all right.” Encourage teens to use stress-relieving tools like music, physical exercise, writing in a journal or meditation.
Create a plan. Ask your teen if he or she has any concerns, and help create a plan for overcoming hurdles. Because life always brings challenges, learning how to manage them is a good life skill that will serve young people well for years to come.
However, if your teen has uncontrolled anxiety that is interfering with the ability to eat, sleep and function normally, meeting with a counselor may ease the situation. Organizations specializing in youth and family mental health, like Youth Eastside Services, offer confidential and effective services, sometimes right in the teen’s school.
If your child is changing schools this year, it’s important to help him or her prepare for the changes in advance. To support parents, YES is offering a summer class on transitions for kids, with tips to help children navigate changing schools, changing bodies, the need to belong, and the pressure to succeed. For more information, visit YouthEastsideServices.org/classes.
Change in life is certain — how your kids react to it is a habit to be learned for life. Let your attitude demonstrate that change is a natural part of growing up. It will help them accept and adjust — this year, and for the changes to come.
Patti Skelton-McGougan is Executive Director of Youth Eastside Services (YES). YES is a nonprofit organization and a leading provider of youth counseling and substance abuse services in the region. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering treatment, education and prevention services to help youth become healthy, confident and self-reliant and families to be strong, supportive and loving. While YES accepts insurance, Medicaid and offers a sliding scale, no one is turned away for inability to pay. For more information, visit YouthEastsideServices.org.