by Meredith Flory

 

I love the start of the school year. The cooling temperatures, the promise of new beginnings, and a fresh start to learning is exciting for many students, educators, and parents. However, the start of a school year can also bring anxiety and stress to students who are facing a major transition, such as a new school. I collected suggestions from experts, educators, and other parents on books that can help children deal with the anxieties of a school transition, and open up the door to conversations about their emotions at home. 

New At School

Georgia-based parenting coach and former school counselor Michelle White works for Weldon Parenting, an online platform connecting parents to evidence-based advice. She and her colleagues suggest working with a child who will be attending a new school to understand their concerns – “don’t assume that they understand or know even simple things.  They may be concerned about something that you have not thought of.” Asking the child questions, visiting the school without the pressure of the first day, working through routines, and practicing new activities such as opening locks are all ways you can help your child prepare. She suggests several books that you can read with your child that can assist in this preparation. One is The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, which also has a sequel Chester the Brave. These are stories my own mother used in her Kindergarten class and are wonderful for talking about the parent-child separation that the school day brings.

White and two of my friends that work in education suggested Wonder by R. J. Palacio for middle grades, which addresses physical differences, bullying, a desire for acceptance, and more in a school setting.  My family enjoys the Scaredy Squirrel series by Melanie Watt that comedically deals with social anxiety. Early childhood specialist and publisher of Successful Black Parenting Magazine, Janice Robinson-Celeste connected with me on Twitter to share about her book out this month, Big Kid: For When You’re Feeling Small in a Big, Big World. This picture book takes a method public speakers use for handling nerves to help encourage and empower children. 

Many military children face new schools and places at the start of the school year here in the area. In addition, their parent may be absent due to training or deployment, and unable to read to them.  Or so you may think!  United through Reading is a non-profit organization that allows soldiers to record themselves reading stories for their children to listen to while they are deployed.  The technology has changed throughout the organization’s thirty years, and now they are updating again with the United Through Reading app.  This free app will allow service members to record stories to be sent back home through a video link to the other parent or caregiver to play for the child during seperation. 

Bravery through History

While researching this article, I was reading the story of The Radium Girls by Kate Moore, who bravely fought back against corporate greed to have it recognized that industrial practices involving radium were killing young women.  This inspired me to reflect on how many stories of brave men and women throughout history are often children and teens themselves! I picked up several picture books from the library that demonstrated courage during labor and civil rights movements.

Some picture books in this category are: Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, Iqbal: A Brave Boy From Pakistan/Malala: A Brave Girl From Pakistan two books in one by Jeanette Winter, and The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles.  In addition to several making me tear up, they lead to wonderful discussions with my daughter about the choices each person made and the importance of standing up for what you believe. Malala Yousafzai’s story is also accessible to older readers in her autobiography I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, both in its full form and a “Young Readers” edition. 

Other mothers suggested series of historical fiction books, the first being Dear America.  This series tells the story of major American events, such as the the great Chicago fire or the sinking of the Titanic, through the eyes of a fictional teen’s diary. It is written by several authors, and many of those have non-fiction and middle grade fiction titles outside of the series that also tell tales of bravery, such as Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Second is the American Girl Doll’s accompanying books. These titles have captured the hearts of several generations, and allow for role playing of difficult situations with the dolls. 

Confidence in Social Situations

Teens may face a variety of uncomfortable social situations that test their confidence and values.  The following young adult books tackle a variety of difficult subjects: sexual assault, police brutality, bullying, and religion.  Parents may want to read the book or more detailed descriptions to make sure the story is appropriate for your child, but books that are not afraid to ask big questions or provide fictional scenarios that mirror real world issues can be a safe space for a teen to work through their own challenges.  Whether you are sharing a book from your own youth, such as the beloved and groundbreaking stories of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? from the 1970s and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, a 1999 Book Award Finalist, or a moving newer work such as The Hate U Give, the novel by Angie Thomas that focuses on social justice and navigating racism, reading alongside your teen can lead to valuable conversations.  Each of these stories focuses on a young woman finding her voice, and discussing the challenges a fictional character faces may give you an “in” to discussing what matters in your own child’s life.   

Fellow parents and educators suggested a wealth of newer young adult novels dealing with courage that I’ll be putting on my reading list: All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook; Dumplin’; Out of My Mind; Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe; and Some Kind of Courage.   

While stories, both fictional and historical, are powerful tools for understanding our own emotions and experiences, many experts, including educators, child psychologists, and others that work extensively with children in transitions, have written books that directly address feelings and coping strategies for children. Australian psychologist Amba Brown has written a series of books called Finding Your Path to help children navigate the different stages of school, and more information and her Ted Youth Talk can be found on www.findingyourpathbooks.com.  Author Melissa Hart compiled a resource for educators and parents in her book Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self Acceptance in Tweens and Teens that is a guide to contemporary fiction and memoir that deals with difficult topics. I hope to delve deeper into other transitional challenges in future columns, but hope these books help your family transition smoothly into the school year.

This article appears in the August 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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