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Going Back to School a Transition for Everyone in the Family
By Elizabeth Waickman

From shopping for back-to-school clothes and supplies to coordinating carpools and after-school activities, there are so many things to consider when preparing the family for a successful start to the new school year. But sometimes in the midst of the bombardment of back-to-school sales and scheduling, it's easy to overlook the anxieties that come along with saying goodbye to summer.

"The whole family undergoes a transition when children go back to school," said Wendy Levin-Shaw, a licensed clinical therapist at Squirrel Hill Psychological Services. "Parents get so caught up in the details of getting everything together that they sometimes don't notice the emotions that come along with it, for all family members."

At Squirrel Hill Psychological Services, Levin-Shaw works with parents and children. She said that children of all ages may have some reluctance and mixed feelings about returning to school. Those who are feeling exceptionally unsure or reluctant may engage in unpleasant or inappropriate behaviors rather than express themselves in a constructive way. These behaviors may indicate there is an underlying emotion–anxiety, fearfulness or sadness–that needs to be addressed to ensure a child is happy and healthy throughout the school year.

While children may feel apprehensive about returning to school, parents may also feel a sense of sadness or anxiety at the approach of the new school year. For many, it means facing the fact that children are growing up and maturing faster than they imagined.

"Communication is key when it comes to ensuring everyone is on the same page about returning to school, and it can help diffuse feelings of negativity or emotionally-charged and negative behaviors." Levin-Shaw said.

Most of the time parents can help their children–and each other–work through and communicate their feelings about going back to school by enlisting some of the following techniques. Doing so can help all members of the family look forward to the event.

Conduct an annual "back-to-school" family discussion – As the new school year approaches, Levin-Shaw suggests that families use the end of summer as a focal point for discussion. "Sit down and discuss the transition from summer to the school year. Focus on what your children did and didn't like about their summer break and what they're looking forward to, or not looking forward to, during the new school year. Allow them to discuss any thoughts they have about going back to school," she said. "Take the opportunity to make this a family ritual by having a special meal together at the dinner table or going out for ice cream."

Encourage ongoing communication – After an initial back-to-school discussion, parents should conduct frequent family follow-ups as the school year progresses. "Ongoing, open communication is key to ensuring everyone in the family is satisfied with how the school year is going," Levin-Shaw said.

Contact Squirrel Hill Psychological Services for support – For parents who have tried communicating with children or teens, but still need assistance in guiding them through their difficulties, the counselors and therapists at Squirrel Hill Psychological Services understand family dynamics and the unique needs of young clients.

Whether it's time to go back to school or dealing with other life changes, ongoing communication can help children, adolescents and parents cope with challenges. Sometimes, though, additional guidance is needed. For more information about counseling options available at Squirrel Hill Psychological Services, visit www.squirrelhillpsych.org or call (412) 521-3800.

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