The start of a new school year is both exciting and stressful to children – even for those returning to familiar ground but especially for those going to a new school.
Experts from longtime McKinney Chamber of Commerce member Counseling and Consulting Associates of North Texas (CCA North Texas) say parents can help reduce their children’s back-to-school stress and even make school preparations fun with the following five tips.
• 1, Start or continue back-to-school traditions. Ideas include letting your child choose their own school supplies during a back-to-school shopping trip, planning for special breakfasts kids can enjoy during the first week of school, or preparing special lunches together that students can take to school.
“Back-to-school traditions are rituals, and any shared ritual is an experience that grounds and strengthens families,” explains Dr. Suzanne Hales, a licensed professional counselor and founder of CCA North Texas. “Traditions are great because they provide an overall sense of belonging and establish the building blocks of trust in a family.”
• 2, Book an appointment to do a walk-through of your child’s school, especially if it’s a new school, and let your child create a special back-to-school photo book prior to the start of school. These creations can be made with colorful construction paper and photos you snap on your phone, says Todd Lawhorn, a licensed professional counselor and certified family life educator who works in private practice at CCA North Texas and serves as a counselor with the McKinney school district.
“Let your child create a page showing them in each room of the school they’ll visit daily,” recommends Lawhorn, who has worked with children for more than two decades. “On each page, they can write down or draw examples of the things they’ll be doing in each room and what they’re most looking forward to doing as a positive affirmation. By visiting the school and becoming familiar with it, and then creating a book that visualizes their entire day, students will have less anxiety because they’ll already know what to expect. Children like routines and they like to have a plan.”
• 3, Create opportunities for play dates with peers where conversations can be shared about going to school, Lawhorn advises. Play dates may include meeting at the school playground to allow for peer-to-peer interactions that normalize and validate many feelings – such as fears or excitement – that come with the “first-day jitters.” It may even be fun to practice car pool procedures to alleviate any concerns about where to enter the school or where pick-up will occur at the end of the day.
“A combination of facilitated communication, practice and role play events, creative story writing and peer socialization can help minimize the anticipation of transitioning to school and can even maximize your child’s comfort level and confidence,” Lawhorn says.
• 4, Talk as a family about the new school year in the days leading up to the start of school. Parents can share stories about their school days and help their children strategize about ways to have a successful school day.
“If your child is expressing concerns about school, listen closely and validate their concerns,” Lawhorn says. “Then ask for your children’s opinions about how they might best address that concern – and work together to write out a plan.
“If your child has trouble offering insight into their feelings or needs, it is important to provide a sense of approachability,” Lawhorn explains. “One way to encourage openness is a non-directed approach by providing expressive art activities, cartoon strip writing or interactive play as teacher or student. Get involved, have some fun, and be a kid again modeling your excitement for school.”
• 5, Establish a routine. In the days leading up to school, students going into second or third grade should begin waking themselves up with their own alarm at a time that will allow them to be ready for school on time. Parents should heavily praise young children for waking themselves up. Older children should begin getting up at a time to ensure they’re used to getting ready for school on time.
“Depending on a child’s maturity level, children in second and third grade are old enough to be responsible for waking themselves up and getting ready for the day, with some assistance from their parents,” Dr. Hales says. “This teaches children they can rely on themselves, which will help their confidence as they navigate the school day.”
Both counselors say parents should keep the lines of communication open and let their children know that they are always there to support and love them unconditionally. On the first day of school, parents should ensure their actions mirror the positive messages they give their children – that school is a wonderful place and they will have a great day.
Lawhorn notes, “Parents need to remember that if they want their child to be brave and strong as they go into the classroom, they need to be able to model the same on the emotional-filled day.”
CCA North Texas offers an extensive staff of experts who provide confidential, comprehensive mental health care for children, adolescents, teens and adults. CCA’s staff is more than happy to meet with parents who would like to gain more effective parenting skills or need help breaking down communication barriers with their children. And, CCA works with children of all ages.
For more than 25 years, CCA has prided itself on offering the widest variety of counseling services and the most diverse group of specialists in Collin County – all conveniently housed under one roof. Its staff includes a vast variety of licensed counselors, social workers, play therapists, art therapists, psychologists and a psychiatrist offering care for individuals, couples and families.
Dr. Hales opened McKinney’s first family therapy center in 1986.
“I opened CCA so that families or anyone needing a counselor’s care could find help in one place,” she says. “We recognize that for people who need help, it can be exhausting and overwhelming to seek different specialists for all of the different psychological and social needs an individual or family might have. That is why we provide so many specialties under one roof.”
CCA’s experts realize that life is hard and change is difficult, so their goals are to tailor their approach to each individual situation, Dr. Hales says. “We will listen, offer learning, help uncover your strengths, provide a respite, and allow you to discover what matters most in order to lead a healthier, more productive life,” she says.
• Individual, couples, family and group therapy
• Diagnostic testing and therapy for autism spectrum disorders and ADD/ADHD (including drug-free therapies)
• Play/art therapy for children
• Art therapy for adults
• Equine and pet therapy
• Addiction therapy (alcohol, chemical, food, gambling, Internet, relational, etc.)
• Grief counseling
• Trauma/post-traumatic stress counseling
• Attachment counseling
• Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) psychotherapy
• Bilingual counseling
• Psychiatric evaluation and medication
• Crisis intervention
• Bedside counseling for the terminally ill and their families
For weekend/weeklong retreats and family or group gatherings, CCA offers the new Crescent Moon Lodge and Retreat Center on 160 wooded acres in the beautiful Kiamichi Wilderness near the Texas-Oklahoma border, a pleasant drive from Collin County. To book a stay at the Crescent Moon Lodge and Retreat Center, please call 214- 926-2074.
To make an appointment at CCA, please call 972-542-8144. CCA accepts most types of insurance, and CCA is proud to partner with the employee assistance programs (EAPs) of many agencies and businesses throughout North Texas.
About CCA North Texas:
CCA has provided counseling services to residents from McKinney and the surrounding area for more than 25 years. Founded by Suzanne Hales, CCA offers a staff that includes licensed professional counselors, social workers, therapists and a psychiatrist who provide counseling, psychotherapy and psychiatric care for adults, children, couples and families. CCA is located at 2750 W. Virginia Parkway, Suite 104 in McKinney. To make an appointment, please call 972-542-8144. For more information, please go to ccanorthtexas.com. At CCA, our therapy provides encouragement, support, information, and assistance to help you in the changes and transformations you seek in your life. We are honored to be a part of your process of change, and we applaud your courage in seeking assistance to make changes in your life.
About the Crescent Moon Lodge and Retreat Center:
Join us for a retreat into nature. The Crescent Moon Lodge and Retreat Center is a relaxing, tranquil respite for groups, families and friends. The 5,000-square-foot lodge stands on 160 acres of wooded hills in the town of Rattan, Okla., just across the Texas-Oklahoma border. The Crescent Moon Lodge and Retreat Center provides comfort and quiet reflection amid natural beauty. For more information, please go online to crescentmoonlodge.com.