By Joshua Essery, PsyD, ABPP
Mental health professionals will commonly refer to a “honeymoon” period when referring to transitions. Often this means that a family or person who is in transition will be happier, seem to do much better,and have fewer problems than occurred prior to the transition. This period may confirm “the grass really was greener on the other side.” This phenomenon commonly occurs when children start a new school year. A fresh start with a new class or teacher, the prospect of making friends or reuniting with old ones, and simply the change of environment can provide children and families with the sense that past hurdles, conflicts, or obstacles are now in the past.
However, as everyone settles into a routine, families may begin to re-experience old problems. It may be discouraging after such a positive start to find you or your child beginning to demonstrate old patterns. You might find yourself worried about their grades again, disappointed in their behaviors, or concerned about their emotional well being. As a parent, you may find yourself back in power struggles, talking with teachers or school administrators (yet again), or laboring to help your child succeed with organization and homework. The ”honeymoon” period is over, and you may find yourself frustrated or anxious wondering if it should really be this hard. So how can you be prepared to help your child when the new wears off?
Focus on your child’s needs, not their problems per se: Children tend to succeed when they are able to do so. Too often in our culture we simply focus on changing a behavior or solving an immediate problem, rather than understanding what the root of the problem or behavior may be. If a child or adolescent is not doing well, there is usually an underlying need that is being reflected by their problem. Understanding this need, and responding appropriately, can help set the child up for long-term success.
Be open to asking for help: As parents we cannot do it all. Often patterns of difficulties within the school setting can signify needs that are best understood or addressed by professionals. For example, difficulties with grades, particularly if they are in a specific subject, may be due to a learning disability. Behavior problems, particularly in younger children, may relate to needs for speech or occupational therapies, or can result when a child is struggling in a particular school subject and so acts out as a diversion to having to complete their school assignment. Social or emotional struggles in adolescence may be best addressed with a school counselor or therapist. Be open to asking professionals for guidance and help as they may be able to provide needed support and direction.
Be the person you want your child to become: As parents we are models for our children. They often learn much more from what we do and not as much from what we say. The attitudes, values, and beliefs reflected in our behaviors are powerful messages our children use to understand themselves and the world around them. While it may be difficult not to give in to a sense of despair or disillusionment, it is important to remember that obstacles and challenges are a natural part of growth and development. All of us have strengths and weaknesses that make it hard for us to do some things. Try to remember this when your child is facing challenges. Keep a long-term perspective focused on your child’s overall character and development. Show them how to respond to their struggles in a way that they will be able to use effectively in the future.