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Practicing empathy to support your child going back to school

by Emily Stone, LICSW and Lead Clinical Strategist at Mightier

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After previous years of disrupted and disjointed education caused by the pandemic, many adults might expect kids to be excited about returning to school this fall. New friends, new experiences, and getting out of the house with parents and siblings can seem like a cause for celebration.

While this may be the case for some children, others may have a more difficult time getting back into the rhythm of the school year. Parents and caregivers can create schedules, talk about worries, and engage in other activities to help kids transition more easily back to school. It is also important to practice empathy for your child’s experience returning to the classroom.

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, can be a powerful tool when talking to children and helping them to transition into something that feels new or daunting.

For example, if your child did not like their teacher last year, they might not be excited to meet their new teacher this school year. They may be anxious out of fear the relationship will be similar to last year’s or feel they have to act differently in class to change the outcome. They might also be sad to leave siblings and parents who help them feel safe at home.

Putting yourself in your child’s shoes takes practice. One way to practice empathy is to ask questions and learn more about what your child is thinking and feeling. While they share their thoughts and feelings, take time to listen without judgment or correction.

It can be tempting to say, “You don’t have to worry about not liking your teacher this year, you have a new one!” to take away any negative feelings, sitting with your child in their feelings and listening can be extremely helpful for them. Try saying things like, “It is easy to understand that you are worried about not liking your teacher this year, it was a difficult school year last year. What do you think we can do to make it feel a bit better?”

Remind yourself of your own feelings about starting a new job, meeting new people, or having a long list of things to do. Chances are that your child is experiencing similar feelings. As your children transition into a new school year, you can serve as a great listener and support system for them.

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