DES MOINES — As Iowa kids prepare to head back to school in a week or two, many are filled with equal parts excitement and dread. This can be a hectic time for them, and parents need to keep an eye on their child’s mental wellbeing.
Pediatrician Dr. Marcia Slattery says kids go into each school year with a lot of unknowns that could stress them out. “We don’t know who our teachers are going to be, where our classrooms are,” she says. “For some kids moving into middle school, for example, will my locker combination work? A variety of different worries.”
Slattery suggests parents ask their kids about specific classes, talk with them about friends, and make a habit of getting a full look at their everyday activities. Slattery says parents should know that developmental changes in tweens and teens can drive anxieties. “During earlier grade school, the focus is really on activities and tasks, whereas when we’re moving into middle school and high school, it’s much more a gradual shift to a social emphasis,” she says, “and that can be incredibly confusing.”
Slattery says if parents are focusing only on grades and other academic outcomes, it can put more stress on kids going through a rough time. She adds, parents should be mindful of the social pressures facing children at school. “They’re just not quite sure how to put all the pieces together yet,” she says, “so parents need to have some flexibility and give some room for kids to understand and learn what’s happening.”
It might also be helpful to start the back-to-school routine early, with regular bedtimes and wakeup times, and if the child is attending a new school, see if tours are available before classes resume.