It is common for children to experience some anxiety when faced with a new situation. As the summer comes to an end, parents and children anticipate the start of the new school year. Back to school transition is certainly one of the most common triggers for anxiety in any child.
Some children may be able to articulate their fears and concerns while others may have more trouble expressing their worry. Often the concerns about back to school are related to making new friends or keeping old ones. While parents can reassure their child that their peers experience the same thoughts and concerns, they can help by coaching their child on how to make new friends and secure the friendship of old ones.
The following are some coaching tips:
Be Emotionally Sensitive
Being an emotionally sensitive parent can help model for children how they can be more sensitive to others. Communicate with your child about feelings so that they can understand their own emotions as well as the emotion of others. When your child talks about their feelings take time to validate them. Ask your child to talk about the situations and thoughts they might be having that are related to those feelings, so that they can understand that feelings don’t just “fall out of the sky.”
Help your child understand what it feels like to be in “someone else’s shoes.” Ask your child about what they think another person might be thinking or feeling about a situation as well as the impact of your child’s behavior on another child’s feelings. Role playing a variety of situations or finding opportunities to teach perspective-taking in the natural environment can help your child learn this skill. Learning to take someone else’s perspective can also help your child with turn taking and sharing and help to foster empathy for others.
Find an after school activity that fosters teamwork rather than competition. During play dates help your child set up activities that have a common goal rather than ones that promote competition (i.e., engaging in a fun activity together like building a fort or baking a cake). The rewarding impact on the group helps to foster friendship.
Be an Active Listener
Engage in active listening with your child at home by reflecting your child’s concerns, providing validation, inquiring more about situations that affect them and helping them to problem solve. Modeling active listening skills for your child can help them to engage in the listening skills that are necessary for healthy friendships.
Encourage Emotion Regulation
Teach your child ways to manage their own emotions by using calming exercises like deep breathing or yoga. Children who are able to manage their own emotions are better equipped to manage friendships.
Find Common Ground
When children find things in common that they can talk about it helps to promote friendships. Encourage your child to take their time to observe other children and ask them questions. Also encourage your child to participate in activities with other children who might have similar interests. Teach your child that friendship is between two equal partners and to refrain from bragging.
Teach Ways to Show Openness
Help your child to be open to friendship. If your child is shy, help him or her practice saying hello to peers. You can teach your child ways to start a conversation, for example, by giving a compliment or asking a question.
Making new friends might seem like something that should be second nature, but it is actually a skill that requires modeling and practice. By incorporating these techniques you can help your child foster positive and enduring friendships.
Alison Gilbert, PhD, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. She is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine with a certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders from U.C. Davis.