Summer’s over, which means school days are back. But how is your girl feeling? Is she feeling super excited to see her friends (in person or virtually) and explore new subjects, or is she feeling pretty nervous about new teachers, starting at a new school, or even facing kids who weren’t so nice to her last year? Maybe a combination of all of the above?
Before you answer, think about this: Have you really asked her?
“It’s important to find out from your child what she is most excited about for the upcoming school year and what she’s maybe nervous or worried about,” says Girl Scouts’ Developmental Psychologist, Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald. “Both positive and negative feelings are totally normal and should be discussed.” Girls are often conditioned to believe they’re supposed to be positive, happy, and smiling all the time—that “bad” feelings should be pushed away or glossed over. But the truth is, you need to feel and acknowledge those bad feelings to work through them. Ignoring them or brushing them off often only makes them worse—and turning a blind eye to your daughter’s nervousness can have even bigger consequences.
“If you avoid talking about things that seem negative, she might think you’re only open to discussing things that are positive—and that it’s disappointing to you for her to feel unhappy,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “That could mean she won’t bring those issues and struggles to you in the future, when she really does need your support.” So instead of telling her she’s silly to be worried, legitimize her feelings and let her know that there are some things in your life that have made you nervous, too.
And once you do know your girl’s back-to-school insecurities? Figure out a game plan to work through them together. Try doing a dry run of the walk or drive to school if she'll be attending in person, or even see if you can visit the school a week before classes begin to walk around campus and see where her classroom might be. If she’s starting at a new school, reach out to local parents’ groups and see if you can set up a meeting (virtual or otherwise) between your girl and another member’s daughter so she knows at least one person on her first day.
Going back to school is a big time of transition—perhaps now more than ever—and your girl needs to know she’s got you in her corner. “After you’ve brainstormed ways to solve your girl’s anxieties, make sure to check in with her at the end of the first week of school and then again in a few week’s time,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “It’ll show her you take her feelings seriously and help keep the conversation open just in case new issues come up.”
Her teacher might not have put these on the list, but she absolutely needs them.
Forcing her to be friends with kids she doesn't click with isn't a good idea.