Is your child haunted by the ghost of school years past? Here’s how to help…

haunted-hallway-copyAs the first day of school gets closer, many children feel a growing sense of anxiety because of bad experiences at school from the year(s) before. Us parents can feel apprehensive too, afraid of negative school situations spilling into the coming year. If you or your child are feeling dread around the coming school year because of bad memories, here’s an activity to help…

Take a piece of paper and lay it horizontally in front of you. Fold it into three sections. Unfold it and, going left to right, label each section with “problem” , “reason” and “why this year will be different”.

  1. With your child, talk about and list any problems from the negative year. These often include problems with the teacher, missing homework assignments, bad grades on tests or difficulty reading aloud. This is a time when your child can really express what is on his mind, voicing fears, concerns and possible regrets.
  2. Next, break down the bad experiences to their causes…maybe your child got off on the wrong foot with his teacher when he threw a paper airplane or passed a note in her class on the first day of school last year. Maybe the missing homework assignments were due to not using a planner, and poor test grades were caused by less-than-ideal study habits. It is possible, and not uncommon, that your child and his/her teacher simply had bad chemistry…no one’s fault, but poor circumstances.
  3. In the last column, list the actions your child (and possibly you) can take to prevent and/or remedy the issues listed in the “reasons” column. Get creative…treat it like a marketing or advertising exercise when you call out ideas, no idea too silly to share. Often the best problem-solving strategies are the off-the-beaten-path ideas! For example, my child struggles with impulsivity and often takes action without thinking of the consequences. He and I came up with a chant that goes “No brain! I won’t do it!” whenever he feels tempted to do something that might land him in trouble. He has “internalized’ this strategy and “says” the chant in his head when he needs it. Known as “self-talk”, these strategies can be vital for helping kids problem-solve on their own.

Whatever you do, try to separate and deal with your own school-based anxiety before sitting down to talk strategy with your child. This can be key to making sure this problem-prevention exercise if truly about your child’s concerns and not your own. Once the two of you have broken down past problems and found practical tools to prevent or solve these issues should they come up again, fold the paper, but it in an envelope and put it in a safe place. Hopefully these ideas will be “shelved” both literally and figuratively, but you can always revisit the chart if you need to.


Problems Reasons Cure
I got in trouble for talking in class a lot last year  

My two best friends were in my class and it was hard to stop talking to them

 Next year, only one of my besties will be in my class. And I am going to sit far away from her

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