Blog Post | Avoiding Back-to-School Emotional Pitfalls
Avoiding Back-to-School Emotional Pitfalls
As the new school year approaches, I am working on getting my schedule straightened out. But, when I ask my school-aged clients when their new year starts, I tend to get some version of “Ugh, I don’t know! I don’t want to know!” My clients know that summer is ending soon, and they’re already dreading the upcoming year. This response is usually filled with angst, dread, fear, and grief. These emotions build quietly like a hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic, slowly building steam as it inches toward impact day. As the day nears, and we approach the final weeks and days of summer, the edges of the storm start to make their impact on everyone around.
With the new school year’s “storm” approaching and growing in intensity, helping your child be aware of these emotions and helping them process those emotions with tools designed to support ADHD brains can make all the difference in the world.
Setting Expectations, and Collaborative Planning
Your child undoubtedly remembers the struggles of the last academic school year (and I’m sure you do too!), and they likely fear a repetition of those struggles. For instance, if being on time in the morning was hard for them last year; you can imagine that this year they are probably dreading the alarm clock because that sound also signifies the fighting, tension, and frustrations that come with their struggle to be on time.
Identifying areas where your child has struggled in the past, talking about those areas with them, and being curious about how they think they can improve on that area will help to alleviate the dread and angst. Through that conversation, you as the parent are likely able to set clear expectations and create a collaborative plan for how those expectations will be met. This last part is the key. A plan is only as good as its execution, and your child can’t execute well on something they didn’t help craft. In contrast, encouraging your child to think about possible solutions gets them thinking toward a goal and gives them a sense of autonomy that most high schoolers are desperate for. Telling your child to be on time is one thing. Talking to your child about the importance of being time, what gets in the way for them, what might enable their success, and how you can best support them as part of a collective agreement that the team is going to work harder to be on time in the morning creates clear expectations as well as a plan for how that expectation will be met.
Acknowledging their Grief
One of the things every parent will hear from me at one point or another in our coaching relationship is: If your child is having a meltdown, it is that big of a deal. If it is important to your child, then it is important! If you’re trying to explain to your child why that thing they’re stressed about isn’t that big of a deal, you’re hoping to quell their concerns and help them calm down. But often, your child receives that as invalidating their feelings, which only makes matters worse.
Bringing empathy to your conversations with your child about the school year can make a big difference. Try to think back to what it was like when you were their age: end of summer means work, stress, loss of freedom, less time with friends, and so much more. The end of every summer is tantamount to a time of mourning for your child. They are acutely aware of the impending loss of nearly all their most desired and treasured experiences.
This is true for any child, but for a child with ADHD, it also means that precious time probably passed quickly without them realizing it. The school year snuck up on them, and they already know it’s going to be full of strife as a student with ADHD. The return to school is a grieving process that comes with denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. When we look at our child’s behavior toward the end of summer through the grieving lens, many of the frustrating or regressive behaviors are easily explained and even understood. The end of summer is that big of a deal for your child, and the more you as a parent both acknowledge and support their processing of that, the easier the start of the school year is likely to be.
ADHD Coach | Center For Living Well with ADHD, LLC