Getting Over the Hump: 5 Tips for Getting Your Teen Back to School

Category: Play Therapy

Getting Over the Hump
5 Tips for Getting Your Teen Back to School                                      By Caitlyn Valle, LMFT

Even as adults, let’s face it — transitions back to work from a fun break or vacation can be tough! It’s normal to experience the “back-to-work” or, in your teenager’s case, “back-to-school” blues. It begins a few weeks before summer starts to wind down when the reality hits that their fun-filled and homework-free summer is quickly ending.

We all needs breaks and time to recharge from consistent pressures, and teens are no exception, so if your teen has been overbooked this summer, you still have a month to ensure that break really happens. Many teens have summer jobs, camps and extra classes, and the summer wind-down will go more smoothly if some of those activities can be slowly phased out starting now. You’ll be surprised how much happier and well adjusted even a moody teen may seem after a few weeks of feeling like a kid again. How do you help your teenager get over that hump, slow things down in preparation for going back to school, and acclimate to a more normal routine?

Here are 5 tips.

1. Validate your teen’s experience. This is a good tip across the board for getting through to your kid in the toughest years. Your teen needs you to see her perspective. If she perceives that you see her experience and truly want to understand her feelings, that’s when you’ll see a change for the better in interactions and behavior with you. When your teen complains summer is coming to an end, try a simple validating expression, such as “It sounds like you feel a little overwhelmed thinking about going back to school and having a bunch of homework again.” So simple and yet we can validate their experience without having to fix it for them. If we jump to problem-solve mode, our teens may be less likely to vocalize their feelings. You can also ask them what would help them to feel more comfortable going back to school, and if there is something you can help with.

2. Ease them back into more structured home routines. It’s likely that over summer, home routines have also become more relaxed (bedtime, dinnertime, screen time etc.). Try to keep a balanced approach when scaling back to normal routines and you will see less resistance. Maybe make bedtime slowly earlier in the nights leading up to back-to-school. Remember that teachers are also aware it takes a little time to acclimate back to school routines, so don’t stress if your teenager gets a little less sleep the first few days or has that late dinner.

3. Be engaged but don’t hover. Our teenagers may be growing up fast and may even use language that makes us forget that they are still children, but remember that in so many ways their brains are literally still developing. The frontal lobe, which is responsible for rational decision-making and judgment, is literally not fully connected in your child’s brain until age 25. That means that while they maybe able and want to do things by themselves, they still need our guidance and support. The teenage years are tough ones because they need to develop as individuals and gain confidence by making important decision, and still need us to help them navigate the right path. It’s a balancing act.

4. Remind your teenager that she is smart, resilient and capable. Especially in the teen years where there can be a lot of drama, what they often need most is to be reminded of the things they are doing well. The higher their confidence, the more likely they will be to make sound decisions about themselves and about friendships that make them feel good, and to remain positive about their abilities to take on new and challenging tasks. Make a daily habit of acknowledging things they do well and ways in which they succeed, from general courtesy and helping around the house, to jobs well done, classes and programs completed, and friendships with integrity. Some examples: *I really appreciate that you make your bed. *Congrats on sticking with that class, even on days you might rather have gone to the pool. *I’ve noticed how well you keep your agreements with your friend Hal. *Thank you for respecting your curfew, it makes us trust you more.

5. Keep an eye out for signs of trouble. The teenage years are fraught with a variety of challenges — drama, bullying, academic pressures, competition and let’s not forget those hyperactive hormones. A few low days or days of feeling on edge can be expected and considered normal for a back-to-school transition. On the other hand, if your child seems overly preoccupied with returning to school, has difficulty sleeping, changes eating patterns, seems especially irritable, begins isolating or seems notably off, so you find yourself thinking “That’s just not my kid,” listen to your parental instinct and consider seeking professional support.

If you think your child may have depression or anxiety, seeking professional help earlier can help you identify a safe space for your teen to talk and to learn new skills to reduce unwanted symptoms, and free him to be more successful in school, friendships, sports, the arts or whatever lights that spark for him. Therapy can be a great resource not just for children to talk and feel heard, but also to support positive changes at both home and school. Wishing you and your family a smooth and productive start to the new school year!