It’s safe to say most of us remember summer vacation with fondness. As the first day of the new school year approaches, we probably also shared quite a bit of anxiety. We were going to have to adapt to new teachers, have classes with kids we might not know (or didn’t like), and study material that was even tougher than what we mastered the year before.

Your kids may not share anxieties like these with you, but they’re probably thinking about them and worrying like you did. If you want to help them make a successful start to the new school year, you’ll want to address four critical factors (which just happen to be the building blocks of a particularly effective therapy approach known as Theraplay). Paying attention to these factors will not only reduce your child’s anxiety, but will help you enhance your relationship with them.

The first, structure, protects and guides young ones and teens alike. Kids and (especially) teens may angrily push back at rules and boundaries, but the reality is they appreciate knowing where those boundaries are. That’s because clear boundaries provide a zone where they feel safe. Our role as parents is to define and manage those boundaries consistently. When we do that, our kids get better at self-regulation. Structure says, “My world has safety; therefore I am safe at home.”

Engagement is the next factor. It’s all about connecting with your child in positive ways and letting them know they are truly important to you and others. We need to make children and teens a priority, encouraging them to try new experiences and paying attention to how those experiences affect their behavior and emotions. It means looking into their eyes without the distraction of devices. It means listening to hear and being curious about their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviors. Engagement says, “I am important, and I matter.”

Nurture may seem like an obvious component of parenting, although it’s one some parents struggle with, especially if their parents weren’t particularly warm. When you nurture your child, you reassure them you’ll care for them, even when they’re reluctant to ask. It’s more than hugging. Nurturing demonstrates your love for them and willingness to be there no matter what they encounter. Nurture says it is okay to have emotions, and that those emotions aren’t wrong. Nurture strengthens self-esteem and self-confidence and it says, “I am loved and I am lovable.”

Finally, it’s important to challenge kids. Childhood and adolescence prepare us for adulthood, where a key element is taking risks and trying new things. When your kids try something new and succeed, they gain feelings of competence and mastery that help them approach future challenges with confidence and resilience. Challenge teaches resilience and independence and it says, “I am confident and capable of trying new things.”

The key to structure, engagement, nurture, and challenge, isn’t perfection. It’s consistency and it’s consistency in all four areas, rather than perfection in just one or two. It’s natural for us as parents to lean toward one or two of these, and kids still need all four.  If you’re already dreading the arrival of the school year because you know it will once again be filled with tears, angry outbursts, and mysterious stomachaches, maybe it’s time to sit down with one of our professional counselors and learn how you can use these four factors to help your kids through the transition. They’ll be happier and more relaxed … and so will you. Scheduling an appointment is as easy as emailing, or clicking here.

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