Tip of the week
Stressful for many kids, the transition to middle school can be an uphill struggle for children who are socially anxious.
The transition to middle school can be disruption and discomforting, but it can also be an opportunity for positive change, said developmental psychologist Heidi Gazelle, associate professor in the College of Human Sciences, Florida State University.
This period of change can be pivotal in the lives of children identified as “anxious solitary,” said Gazelle, who investigated the subject and published a study on it recently in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
Anxious solitude is more severe than shyness, which is a subjective term, Gazelle said. Children who are anxious solitary want to interact with others but are impeded by their social anxiety, Gazelle said. They may be scared to interact because they question how they will be perceived or treated or if they will perform well socially.
Here’s what it looks like: Children are playing at recess, but some children are watching others play. That shows they’re interested, but they aren’t joining in. All children do that occasionally, but children who are identified as anxious solitary do that at a much higher rate than their peers.
Some children on the pathway of anxious solitude do well enough in social situations. They have the characteristics but have friends and interact with their peers, Gazelle said.
Others are excluded, Gazelle said. In her study she found that this anxiety and exclusion from others can be persistent over years.
While the transition to middle school is generally framed as a stressful time, the study examined whether some children might benefit from it and form better relationships as they entered a new phase of life.
Past behavior often predicts future behavior, but that’s not always the case, Gazelle said. Many kids will show elevated anxious solitude in middle school, but others show declining levels.
“All transitions create opportunities to build new relationships,” Gazelle said. Major transitions like the one to middle school can create bigger opportunities, but smaller ones, such as starting a new school year at the same school, can as well, she said.
Gazelle is an advocate of building a culture of inclusion at school, which benefits all children.
Anxious solitary kids are a diverse lot, so parents should pay attention to if their child is fitting in socially and has friends. Talk with the child about how they’re feeling. Ask who they hang out with and help them problem solve when they encounter difficulties.
Think about the child’s readiness for the transition. Find ways to increase the child’s familiarity with the new school and provide opportunities to meet future classmates beforehand if possible.
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Family Movie Night
“Dora and the Lost City of Gold”
Length: 110 minutes
Synopsis: Having spent most of her life exploring the jungle, nothing could prepare Dora for her most dangerous adventure yet — high school. Accompanied by a ragtag group of teens and Boots the monkey, Dora embarks on a quest to save her parents while trying to solve the seemingly impossible mystery behind a lost Incan civilization.
“Pink Is For Blobfish”
Ages: 5-8 years
Synopsis: Rethink pink.
Some people think pink is a pretty color. A fluffy, sparkly, princess-y color. But it’s so much more than the color of bubblegum and princesses.
It’s also the color of monster slugs and poisonous insects. Not to mention ultra-intelligent dolphins, naked mole rats and bizarre, bloated blobfish.
Slip on your rose-colored glasses and take a walk on the wild side with zoologist Jess Keating.
— Penguin Random House
Did You Know
Is a son or daughter heading off to college in the fall? A college degree doesn’t guarantee a good job. Some 43% of recent college graduates are underemployed in their first job, according to a report issued by Burning Glass and the Strada Institute. Two-thirds remained underemployed — meaning they work in jobs that don’t require a college degree — after five years. Graduates with degrees in engineering, computer science and related fields were the most likely to avoid underemployment.
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