Healthy Living: Making a Psychologically Healthy Adjustment to School 

By- Dr. David PrescottTimes of transition are often both rewarding and stressful. The transition to the new school year, while much anticipated, may bring particular challenges for some children and families. Knowing the early signs of common school adjustment problems can help parents, students, and teachers adjust to a difficult transition without letting a relatively small difficulty grow into a major problem. Three common issues which may require extra attention during the start of a new school year include: 1) anxiety about going to school (“school phobia”): 2) difficulties in peer relationships and bullying: 3) academic difficulties/risk for school dropout.School PhobiaWhat are the signs? It is normal for children and teenagers to worry. A recent study reported that 70% of children say they “worry every now and then.” In children, phobias or anxieties are often displayed through avoidance, behavior problems like tantrums, or physical symptoms like stomach aches or headaches. Children who have school phobia may say that they are worried about what may happen to their parents while they are in school, or find other reasons that they shouldn’t go to school. They may ask for excessive reassurance about going to school. Suggestions for coping with school phobia • For children of all ages, show interest: Listen, give encouragement, and ask questions. • For younger children, get on the bus with a friend. This can help children not feel so alone. • Organize the night before. If your child is anxious about going to school, try not to make the trip out the door full of stress and last minute running around. • Talk to a mental health professional or school counselor if your child begins missing school or leaving early due to stress or worry. Peer Relationships and BullyingWhat are the signs? Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions. Research suggests that about one in five (17%) of school age children report being bullied sometimes or often. There is no single profile of a bully, such as the stereotypical tough on the outside/insecure on the inside child. Many bullies are extremely popular with their peers and, surprisingly, popular among teachers and other adults.Suggestions for coping with peer relationship problems and bullying:• Listen to the problem: Many times, listening to your child’s problem in a patient, relaxed manner can help them feel better immediately, and can help your child start to think of solutions. • Enlist the help of school counselors and administrators: Many schools have worked hard to reduce bullying. A chat with the principal or guidance counselor will help you support your child in a way that is consistent with what they experience at school. • Provide Perspective and Look for Strengths: Try to help your child keep a long term perspective on peer problems. Things don’t always turn around in a day. While you are figuring out how to make things better, don’t forget to help your child focus on what they do well. Academic Struggles and Risk for School DropoutWhat are the signs? Let’s focus for a moment on children in early adolescence. Research suggests that children normally become more self-critical and negative in their opinion of themselves as they enter their early teenage years. As schoolwork becomes more difficult, young teenagers may be filled with doubt about their abilities and skills. Poor grades may be one sign of this. Sometimes teenagers may express dislike for a subject or teacher partly due to their own self-doubts. Helping them overcome these struggles has significant benefits in terms of future work and self-esteem. Suggestions for Coping with Academic Struggles and Risk for Dropout• Effort matters: Even though it may just sound like a saying, research shows that there is a positive correlation between effort and performance in school. Keep in mind that, at least in this case, hard work does appear to pay off. • Look for improvement, not perfection: Try to help your child make improvement, rather than perfection, their goal. • Enlist help: Improving in schoolwork requires both emotional and technical support. Friends, teachers, parents, and siblings can all provide different types of support. Help your child feel like they aren’t isolated in dealing with their struggles. For More Information: Acadia Hospital: www.acadiahospital.orgAmerican Psychological Association Help Center: