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Help children tackle back-to-school stressors

Back-to-school season is well underway, and for all parents that means there are emotional transitions taking place in children of all ages that can be difficult for parents to help navigate. But with a mindset toward using these issues as opportunities to encourage our children to develop their emotional intelligence, confidence and persistence, we can set them up for success beyond the classroom.

It’s important for parents to recognize that all children experience a range of challenging circumstances especially at the beginning of a new school year. These situations are uncomfortable for children – and parents – whether it be an issue with a peer, stress related to school, nervousness at making a team, or performing at a competition.

As parents, our instincts are to jump in and try to help or solve the situation for our children. We do this because it’s our parental instinct.

However, these instincts to protect our children take away from an opportunity to build emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence, defined as the ability to identify and manage emotions in functional ways, is a critical piece of development.

If we as adults solve or dismiss the emotional issues and situations our children find themselves in, we miss natural opportunities to build independence, and lead our children to believe we don’t believe in their ability to manage independently.

So what’s the best way for parents to address these natural, transitional emotional struggles in their children?

Author Jessica Lahey talks about some of these concepts in her book, “The Gift of Failure.”

She offers the following approach for parents in building emotional intelligence in their children:

First, use a curious and inquisitive approach that helps children to reflect on the situation and further develop their thoughts and feelings.

Next, validate emotions and help the child to decide whether these emotions are helping deal with the situation. If necessary, help the child shift their thoughts or feelings by thinking about the situation differently. Should they take time before reacting?

From there, we can talk to our child about his or her plan to address the situation. The plan needs to come from the child, not the parent.

We can help suggest things to think about, but it’s best to sit back. What are they going to do to manage their emotions and what can they do to try to change the situation?

It’s important to focus on both of these things. Many of us try to change the situation without realizing that we can also influence and manage our reactions and thoughts to things.

This process takes more time than following through with our parental instinct to solve the problem for our child and is probably more uncomfortable for adults and children alike. But the benefit is that our children will develop competencies to identify and manage their emotions as well as build their self-confidence in their own abilities to manage situations, and that sets the whole family up for a lifetime of success.

Sarah Lloyd is a clinically licensed professional counselor and co-founder of the Geneva-based Action Consulting and Therapy. Feedback on this column can be sent to

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