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mind THE gap

A few smart strategies can help parents and kids navigate a back-to-school season like no other.

- By Ramona Cruz-Peters

Whether the kids are returning to in-person learning after a year of virtual classes, moving up from elementary to middle school, or stepping into a new school in a new neighborho­od or town, the back-to-school transition may feel even more monumental this year.

“Change is a part of life,” says Elizabeth Devine, a licensed profession­al counselor who specialize­s in helping children and parents. “While change can be especially hard for kids, helping them through it can teach them acceptance and adaptabili­ty.”

Devine, executive director of Innovation­360 Austin, a family mental health and life developmen­t counseling practice, says there are a few smart things parents can do to help their kids (and themselves) bridge the gap between now and their new normal:

watch for signs Kids are not as inclined to communicat­e their feelings verbally, so it may not be clear if they are feeling anxious about going back to school.

If your children have meltdowns for seemingly no reason or act more clingy, needy, or irritable than usual, that may be a sign they are having jitters over the transition.

validate their feelings One of the most important things a parent can do is show their children that someone’s in their corner. Validation can be as simple as saying: “You seem to have a lot on your mind,” “I can tell you’re a little worried about tomorrow,” or “It must feel strange to go back after so long.”

remind them that they’re not alone In the case of going back to inperson learning, it can be helpful for children to know they are experienci­ng something that many of their peers are also going through.

make (or reestablis­h) connection­s Feeling selfconsci­ous about making friends is one of the most common reasons for back-to-school nerves. Remind your children that the best way to make friends (or reconnect with old ones) is just to be friendly!

manage expectatio­ns Help children put things into perspectiv­e. While it’s easy to think of the first day as a really big deal, you can encourage kids to set small, easily achievable goals for Day 1 to set them up for success. For example, make it a goal to give someone a compliment to help make a connection. Looking for nice things to say to other people almost always generates a positive response.

check in with yourself Anything that’s hard on kids is also hard on parents. Remember to acknowledg­e your own anxieties and model good self-care around transition­s like this.

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