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By Sarah Frei, Brillantmont International School

Hard as it is to think about school when the sun burns bright above, it is nevertheless that time of year again when children are sharpening their pencils, packing their bags and worrying about what to wear on the first day back. Indeed, some may already be back in the classroom.

I'm lucky: my own two children love school and even during the first week of July were talking about the next school year, when frankly I was fed up with hearing the « s » word. However, for many children, returning to school can be a huge source of anguish, giving them a twisted knot in the pit of their stomachs. The root cause may have nothing at all to do with the learning: rather, the fears that torment them are about fitting in, popularity, being one of the crowd.

Middle School students are at a particularly vulnerable age. Look around any Middle School classroom and you'll see what I mean. The flat chested thirteen year old sits next to the eleven year old who still likes to play with Barbies but who struggles to accept that she already has the fully developed body of a grown woman. As for the boys, the one hunched up in the corner, attempting to hide the glaring pimples barely concealed in the dark stubble covered behind his hand, clearly eats industrial strength fertiliser every morning since he grows at least 5cm every night. His neighbour, meanwhile, would be blown over by a sudden gust of wind.

These physical changes are the external signs of inner change that we can't see, but which may manifest itself in mood swings, sudden rages, feelings of inadequacy and fatigue. Studies in sleep patterns have proven that adolescents don't simply lounge around in bed because they're lazy and want to annoy their parents! All these internal and external changes require a huge amount of energy. Sleep patterns shift as children mature, meaning that they physically need to sleep later. In fact, doctors recommend that they have at least 8 to ten hours of sleep per night, but the majority of adolescents are getting a lot less. Early school starts, sometimes long journeys to and from school, plus the inevitable plethora of after school activities means that despite having enjoyed up to ten weeks of summer holiday, by October children already feel frazzled and run down. They become tired which can severely impact their learning. Their grades may suffer. The anxiety this provokes may worsen, skin conditions may worsen, adding further stress and desolation.

Of course, we've all been there but we do tend to forget just how difficult those teenage years can be. Without meaning to, parents can often gloss over concerns with a sweeping, “oh, it’ll be alright, don’t worry.” However, as parents we must realise how much the world of an adolescent today differs from that we knew in the 80s or 90s.  Let's not forget that in our time, smart phones didn't exist so there simply wasn't the pressure of social media. We could get the occasional bad grade or have a sudden sprouting of acne and gawkiness without anyone photographing those moments for posterity, or worse, posting those images on social media for all to criticize, rather like putting a man in stocks on the village green.

Sadly, some adolescents can lose their way with dramatic consequences. The media is full of such heart-breaking stories. Naturally, in such cases a whole support structure needs to be put in place with healthcare and educational professionals.

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However, not all worries need professional help. What can parents do to help and best support their child when the going gets tough and it's just  “a bad day”?

  • Listen, listen, listen. Keeping the communication channels open is vital. Your child needs to know that they can always talk to you, not just in moments of crisis.
  • Be wary of making judgements or being dismissive. When a child's self-confidence takes a bashing, he/she needs to feel unconditional love and not criticisms or sweeping generalisations.
  • Depending on your own upbringing and the openness in which you were raised, you may have to step out of your comfort zone to discuss certain personal issues which are troubling your child. If you really struggle, there are experts who can help you as a family and there's a huge amount of information on the Internet.
  • Disconnect. Boundaries with regard to online presence are important. Without them, children can develop addictions, encounter inappropriate material and simply feel exhausted by the pressure to keep up to date with trivia.
  • Writing a journal is a helpful way in which children can express their feelings, without judgement. Simply putting things down on paper allows their emotions to be released and can help put their thoughts in order and clarify a situation.
  • Celebrate community. Family, friends, classmates and teachers are the key actors in your child's journey in life. Find the right person in whom to confide; after all, a problem shared is a problem halved. Don't be afraid to reach out to these people who may also be able to help and offer advice, or at least a different point of view.
  • Don't overload your child. This is a tough one. It may force you to take a serious look at your own expectations and re-adjust the dreams you had set for your child. Many children do so many extra-curricular activities that they feel like an elastic, stretched thin and about to snap. Children need down-time, with nothing planned and nothing to do.
  • Remember too that every child is different, with different energy levels, interests and talents. One size does not fit all and just because an elder sibling sailed through these years seamlessly, it doesn’t mean that a younger child will.

Finally and perhaps, most importantly, keep a sense of humor. It can help diffuse a situation, help make your child feel less overwhelmed and help gain some perspective.


Sarah frei webSarah Frei comes from England. After a BA at UCL followed by an MA at Exeter University, she headed to multilingual Switzerland to put her language skills to use.

In her many years at Brillantmont International School, a day and boarding school in Lausanne with a British IGCSE /A Level programme and an American High School programme for 11-18 year olds, Sarah‘s roles have considerably evolved, to reflect the fast-moving world in which we live. She started out teaching English language and literature before becoming Head of Marketing and Communication.

Sarah is responsible for all marketing, branding, communication and school events and also looks after the 4000-strong alumni network.

She is excited by the opportunities created by technology not only to communicate with the multicultural, far-flung school community but also to share knowledge and experiences about educational practice. At the heart of all those activities lies the driving force – the desire for each child to develop their full potential.