For your daughter, a mix of anxiety and anticipation may accompany the new school year. It is never too late to address her specific fears, talk about potential challenges, and plan for success. Here are a few tips to help you set the stage for a positive and productive year.
Talk about changes (but don’t share your anxieties.) Summer can be full of shifts for teens and preteens. Their interests deepen, talents evolve, friendships change, and expectations develop. Talking with your daughter about her vision for the new school year can help prepare her for the inevitable changes, and support her in accepting the new while letting go of the old. As you engage in these conversations, avoid projecting your anxieties. Teens and preteens absorb parent-anxiety easily and react accordingly. If you are concerned about your daughter making friends, instead of asking her, “Did you make any friends today?” Ask, “How did it go at school?” If you are concerned about your daughter’s academic performance, instead of asking, “Did you get an A on the test?” Ask, “How was the test today?” While the former questions can often mislead teens into thinking they will disappoint their parents if a friend isn’t made or a score isn’t achieved, the latter, more neutral questions will invite an honest response. Plus, your teen will sense your support.
Create a balanced schedule. I’ve coached many middle and high school students who are overwhelmed with their schedule. They have so many daily activities that they lose sleep and often experience health problems. Although most students ease into the beginning of the year, it’s not long before the workload increases and stress levels rise. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to wait until a month or two of school has passed before enrolling in extra-curricular activities. In addition, model balance by sharing with your teen when to say “no” in order to avoid over-committing. Talk about prioritizing and share what you do to take care of yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed with to-dos.
Foster optimism and mental agility. Optimism is the ability to notice and expect a positive outcome, understand what you can control, and take meaningful action. Mental agility is the ability to think creatively and flexibly, and to see a situation from a variety of perspectives. Both are reinforced through coaching and both can be harnessed when parents ask thoughtful questions and share meaningful reflection. When you notice your daughter slipping into the downward spiral of doom-and-gloom, imagine what it is like to be her. At this time, it is your job to calibrate, connect, and empathize. Then, ask open-ended questions like, “Is there another way you can approach this situation?” or “What would be more helpful right now?” You can also use one of my favorite coaching questions, “What can you do right now that will change this situation?” Then, gently point out alternatives: “Mmmm. I see where you are coming from, but it could be that….” Or, “Yes, he/she might be thinking exactly what you think they are, but it’s possible they are coming from another point-of-view.”
Set up support! The truth is, as your daughter moves through adolescence, she will want independence and freedom from her parents. Situations will arise that she will not want to share with you, but will need to share with someone she trusts. As she learns how to solve problems and overcome challenges on her own, she will need a space to process her experiences, sort through her feelings, examine her options, and decide her best next steps. Help your daughter identify her support system. Who are the loyal friends and trusted adults she can turn to when she doesn’t want to turn to you? Where can you let go so she has the space and freedom to explore solutions and develop independence?