Back to School Stress Miami Brickell Coral Gables

I was a student for the better part of my life and an AP high school teacher for nearly a decade.  I also worked as a therapist for EBD students in elementary and middle school settings and later as a psychologist for a large university’s student counseling center.  I picked a profession that challenges me to keep learning all the time so I can use that information to help others.  

It would be an understatement to say education in my blood.  

So I always feel a little nostalgic with the back-to-school frenzy around this time of year.  The kid in me misses shopping for supplies and getting my folders and pencils organized in my backpack.  The teacher in me misses getting my classroom ready for a new school year, catching up with colleagues, and meeting new ones.  A new school year brings with it new hopes, goals, and aspirations; the chance to start again and leave the past behind.  

But not for everyone.

Looking back, I remember throwing up everyday the first week of high school and wanting to drop out after a month of grad school.  It was always had to get restful sleep the Sunday before the first day of school as a teacher.  I would startle awake fearing that I’d forgotten to make my copies or that I was late on the first day, having missed my alarm.  

Sadness and anxiety accompany the back-to-school season for students, too.

So, in no particular order, here are my musings about back-to-school season based on my personal and professional experiences –  no matter where on it you may find yourself as a student, a parent, or a teacher.

Elementary & Middle School

1. New teacher, new classmates, new routine, etc.  

A lot of ‘new’ can overwhelm some kids, and their behavior may change as a result, becoming irritable, withdrawn, or acting out.  If your child isn’t back to being themselves after a month or so, then schedule a chat with their new teacher to see what’s going on in the classroom.

2. Beware of bullying.  

Listen to your child when they come home and talk about their interactions with others at school.  If something sounds concerning, ask them more questions for clarification and again, reach out to the teacher for more information.

3. Get involved with the school’s PTA/PTO.  

It really makes a difference to your kid’s experience when you’re involved.  Not that you or your child will get preferential treatment, but … teachers and staff care about you and your kid when they know know that you care about them and their work. It’s human nature.

4. Learning Disorders and AD/HD.  

Grades K-6 are when children start to struggle academically due to learning disorders and AD/HD.  Pay attention to their grades and the pattern of their grades across subjects and their teacher’s comments about behavior in the classroom.  If 1 (or 2) grading periods of tutoring and remedial help don’t help, then consider having your child undergo a psychological evaluation (Sidenote: I know that, to you, your kid is the best thing since sliced bread and that it’s hard and disappointing for someone to use anything less than a complementary tone when assessing your kid’s behavior.  I get it makes you defensive, but put aside your emotions about it long enough to listen to the teachers.  Having worked with 100s of them, they have a wider point of reference about kids’ behaviors than you do.)

5. Gifted.  

Most people want their kid labeled ‘gifted’.  It means your kid’s going to be in class with a certain kind of teacher and a certain kind of peer group vs the other kinds in the regular ed classes.  It also means access to more resources, support, and other other involved parents.  Don’t test your child for gifted until they’re 6 at least.  Seriously.  IQ tests give a lot of false positive results (gifted when they’re not really) when a kid is younger than that.  All this does is put a kid in a setting too far outside of his/her abilities.  They perform poorly and then feel crappy about themselves for not being ‘good enough’ like the other “gifted” kids and/or disappointing parents.  

6. Focus on effort, not outcomes.  

Your child doesn’t get a good (or bad) grade.  They earn a grade based on their effort.  When you praise effort, kids learn to value how important it is to try regardless of an outcome.  They associate their self-worth and discipline based on their effort, not just the end result because results may vary.  I say this because, in therapy, I see the detrimental results of praising outcomes has once kids become adults.  Yep, you read that right – the effects are long lasting.

7. Don’t over schedule extracurricular activities.  

It’s great to expose your kids to different activities, but they don’t need to play in 5 leagues, do tap, ballet, and hip hop, play the violin and chess like an prodigy, and speak Mandarin and Spanish.  Narrow it down to 2 (at most 3) activities at a time that your kid has shown an interest in (not that you want them to do…because it’s about them, not you).

8. Ask open-ended questions. Shut up and listen. Be curious and don’t judge.  

That’s how you get kids (especially teens) to open up to you.  Open-ended questions can’t be answered with 1 or 2 words. For example, “What’d you learn at school today?” or “Tell me about your day.” vs “How was school today?”  The first 2 require the kid to elaborate.  Keep asking more questions from a place of curiosity and trying to understand better what the child is telling you.  Don’t imposed judgments.  I know… it’s hard, but remember, it’s about them not you.  Nothing kills trust and calms up a teen like fear of being judged.

9. Yours is the hardest job.  

I’ve worked in every level of education, and the work that elementary and middle school teachers and staff perform on a daily basis is super-human.  What’s more they often get a lot of gripe and insufficient recognition for the formative role they play in kiddo’s lives and enjoyment of learning. As a parent, show respect and thank your children’s teachers, and do so as often as you can.  

10. An unkind word matters more than you think.  

“About 85% of adults remember an experience so shaming by a teacher that changed the way they saw themselves as learners, and half of those recall it relating to creativity – writing, drawing, public speaking” (Brené Brown). #Enoughsaid

High School

1. What you do in 9th grade matters and sets the tone for the high school experience.  

Set the right tone from the start, particularly with your gpa.  A strong gpa in 9th and 10th grades gives you some wiggle room in 11th and 12th grade when classes get more challenging.

2. Be strategic about extracurriculars.  

A good rule of thumb is 1 creative (drama, art, music), 1 sport, and 1 foreign language at any given time.  Don’t overextend yourself so you have plenty of time to meet the demands of your class homework and projects.

3. Talk to your teachers.  

Get to know them and let them get to know you even if you hate or struggle with the subject they teach.

4. Decent grades in in regular and honors classes mean a heck of a lot more than sub-par grades in gifted or AP classes.

5. Have fun and enjoy high school experiences – prom, dances, games, etc.  Find kindred spirits to share those experiences with.  

6. Don’t discount the possibility of vocational or trade school.  

College isn’t the only option and it’s certainly not for everyone.  There are a lot of skilled technical workers that make a comfortable living (believe it or not).

7. Learn time management now.  

It’ll reduce your anxiety and stress, and keep you from burning out.  No class or assignment is so important that you should forgo sleep, food, or spending quality time with your friends and family all the time.  Every assignment and project can’t be done perfectly and be A-worthy work.  

8. You don’t need to know what you’re going to “be” or major in by the end of high school.  

That said, you probably want to narrow down your field of options from everything to a certain family of careers/industries.  A career interest and aptitude assessment can help you do that (and it’s WAY cheaper than the cost of tuition for one 3-credit class and saves time by not switching majors a zillion times).  

9. Help your teen learn to stand up for themselves and fight their battles before swooping in to save of take care of it for them.  

Yeah, you’d probably get it done more efficiently and effectively, but you won’t be there to do it for them forever (at least you shouldn’t).  Instead, coach them through it – who to talk to, what to say, how to say it, etc.  Step in only when your kid has tried without success.  And if possible, let them watch you do it so you can model the behavior and debrief after about the difference between your and their approach.

10. Students care about how you make them feel.  

Motivating older teenagers is a herculean task.  But here’s a secret:  if they know that you genuinely care, then they’ll genuinely care about you – which means they’ll work their butts off even if they hate the subject.  Trust me.  I taught AP American History, political science, and economics.  Enough said, lol.

College

1. Homesickness happens.  

You’re moving away from home, going out on your own and completely changing your life and routine. This is a big deal.  I don’t know anyone who didn’t experience homesickness in some shape or form after moving away from home. Even kids who are in tough family situations experience it. It’s just natural to miss what you’re used to, including your family, pets, friends and routines.  Reach out to family, friends, and your school’s student counseling center for support if you’re still struggling.

2. Work, if you can, while you go to college for two reasons:

#1 It’ll help you offset the costs of school.  You really want to have as little student loan debt as possible once you graduate. And #2 You’ll learn how to balance the demands of work, family and social life better.

3. Making mistakes is okay.  

Not knowing everything is okay.  Not having everything figured out as soon as you graduate college is also okay.  You’re not the only one. I promise.

4. Stay open and opportunities will show up at the right times.  

Nothing you do will be “wasted”.  I fooled around with graphic design at an ad agency in college and then I was an admissions counselor at a medical school.  I worked as a therapist for kids, then I became an AP high school teacher, which I followed by becoming a therapist for college students.  None of it was wasted.  I was able to draw from those experiences when I started my own business. 

That’s it! If something else comes to mind, I’ll update this post.  If this resonated with you, then be on the lookout for Part 2 on Thursday about College and Homesickness.  In the meantime, pull up another one of my blog posts and make yourself at home in my digi-home.  If you’d like to chat, please accept my invitation to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult.  You can also reach me at (305) 501-0133

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erika martinez media expert psychologist miami

Erika Martinez, Psy.D.is the founder, owner, and a licensed psychologist at Envision Wellness in Miami, FL.  She specializes in working with ambitious young professionals and entrepreneurs to overcome anxiety/stress, burnout, limiting beliefs, people-pleasing, low self esteem, heartbreak, and toxic relationships/codependency.  Dr. Martinez has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place.  Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consultation.  Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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