Back to School Transitions: Easing the Anxiety
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Back to School Transitions: Easing the Anxiety

Back to School Transitions: Easing the Anxiety The following 800-word article is available for publication in print or online. There is no cost to use the article, but full credit must be included as it appears at the end of the article. Please let us know in advance of your intent to use the article, and when; then a hot link or two copies of the article must be sent to us after publication.

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Back to School Transitions:

Easing the Anxiety

by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC

Are your kids acting a little bit crankier? Are you noticing that they seem more irritable or moody? This could be a reaction to the imminent summer’s end as they visualize tests, homework, teacher’s concerned expressions, and fitting in with a new group of friends. Even kids who enjoy school need time to adjust to the transition from elementary school to junior high and from junior high to high school.

So while you’re setting up physical exams, last minute dentist’s appointments, eye doctor exams, and purchasing loads and loads of school supplies, don’t forget to get your child ready emotionally for these important transitions. Remember that even though your child is the one who is going through these transitions, you as a parent will have to go through them, as well. What are your expected jobs for the new school year? Well here are a few that can be anticipated as your child moves into junior high and high school. You will be a cheerleader, chauffeur, chaperone (yep…dating starts), committee member, and volunteer. In addition to this you will also be a husband/wife, mother/father, career woman/man, and whatever else is on your plate. As you can see, this is going to be a transition for the whole family.

What make these transitions so difficult? The first and perhaps most important is that the brain grows at different rates during adolescence, creating a rhythm of intellectual spurts and plateaus. For example, even though your child never had problems with algebra last year he may become stumped this year because abstract skills have not kicked in yet, leading to frustration.

Distraction is also a key issue to watch out for. Don’t forget that the opposite sex becomes very important at this age. Many times being in Junior High or High School is like watching your favorite soap opera. There’s enough drama going around to distract even you. Many families are also raising their adolescents in “complicated times.” Divorces, blended families and grandparents’ poor health all mean less stability. Less stability oftentimes means more distraction and less focus on academic performance.

Underlying all of this is a degree of anxiety for almost every child during this transition. This anxiety is heightened by a deep need to be accepted and to “fit in.” Doing well in school at this age may not be as important as being popular. Many times the two are not highly correlated. If you don’t focus on anything else, focus on helping your child deal with his fear of entering Junior High or High School and feeling confident. Confidence and a belief that he can succeed usually precipitates doing well socially and academically.

How can a parent help her child achieve confidence and a belief that he can succeed during this transition? Teachers agree that parents should become a BAA:

Back-up (the child can always lean on you during rough times).
Advocate, (you and your child are working together for the same goal—his success)
Audience (sometimes those stories will get old, but listen anyway and always clap).

When talking to successful children who made the transitions with more ease than others, I found they had all had a similar support system that helped them stay ahead. Here are just a couple of ideas they gave to me.

1. Stay informed. Many parents think their children don’t listen or don’t care about what they think. This is untrue. When children were asked who the most important person was for them at the age of 12 to 17 the majority replied it was their parent. Parents need to know what is going on in their children’s lives. Listen, Listen, Listen.
2. Prepare your child for learning. Parents should have a curfew and make sure their children are getting enough sleep. Make sure they have the equipment they need to succeed (computers, paper, ink, and printer). Make a rule about when electronics should be shut off each night. Be consistent with “family rules.”
3. Maintain high expectations. We get what we ask for. If you didn’t make demands in elementary school, starting now will be a challenge. Talk to your children about their abilities and what they can expect. If the parent models the importance of education the child will too.
4. Nurture your adolescents. Hug your adolescents, and tell them how important they are to you. All kids need to hear this. When they seem really stressed, take the time to listen to them and share with them the times you felt the same way. Encourage them by reminding them other times they faced difficulties and came through. This means a lot to teens.
By using these strategies, any child can succeed. Be sure to support your child in whatever he does, and remember that you can make all the difference.

Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at and more about Rapini at


Start Talking features succinct yet lively answers, sample conversations, and real life stories to help open the door to better mother/daughter communication. Rapini and Sherman have compiled more than 113 questions girls (and their moms) routinely ask – or should be asking – about health, sex, body image, and dating.