The new school year heralds a clean slate, an opportunity to address the challenges and build on the successes from the past year(s). But a new school year can also take on added significance, especially if your child is moving into a new section; say from elementary to middle school or changing buildings or schools.
School can be a trigger for any child, a source of stress. “New,” even though it can be positive, denotes change and change can bring on uncertainty. “New” can be exposure to previously unknown peers, a greater mix of students and personalities, and peer pressure. “New” can be a different schedule and teachers, movement between classes, more challenging classes, higher expectations.
And, for the child who has been adopted, the trigger can have a bigger impact-grief. “New” can leave the child feeling vulnerable to questions about adoption and how his or her family was formed. Triggers can cause the child who has been adopted to focus more on and question what adoption means, how being adopted has affected them, how they fit within their family and peers. All of this is going on while the child is busy searching for and forming their identity and being barraged with hormones. It can be complicated…
What can you do to help your child?
- Make your home emotionally safe for your child. With everything that a child can experience in middle and high school (teasing, peer pressure, and bullying) kids need a safe haven to be themselves and to be open with you about how they feel.
- Keep talking about feelings and share yours as well. Kids need to know that their parents have felt sad, fearful, unsure. They need to feel your empathy, know that you understand.
- If you haven’t already, implement a ritual that works for you and your child. What special thing can you do each day to connect with your child?
- Teach your child how to make friends. Some kids require help because they lack maturity, confidence in themselves or don’t have the social skills.
- Teach your child how to deal with uncomfortable and inappropriate questions. Role-play with them. Other kids do ask questions about adoption, as in, “Why do you look so different from your dad?” or “Is he your real brother?” (When you adopted you, knowingly or not, took on the role of the warrior parent. If you haven’t already, you are now learning on how to educate others about adoption and advocate for your child and your family, raising awareness about adoption.)
- Walk through the new building or school with your child. Physically walk the schedule that your child will have. If possible, meet as many of the new teachers ahead of time, as well as a few kids attending the same school.
- Nurture your child’s perspective of him- or herself. Remind them of what they have been successful at in the past.
- Help your child to focus on the positive. Broaden the context for them so that they can see past the current situation. Remind them how well they have dealt with past changes.
- Help your child accept that change is part of life and growth comes from change.
- Help your child trust him- or herself and their decision making ability. Reinforce that they should come to you if they are unsure, uncomfortable or have questions.
Parents: What other things do you do to help your child adjust to the new school year?