Ask Abbie: Helping daughter take the plunge on her own

Published 10:55 am Saturday, June 29, 2013

by Abbie Long

Question: Our family is new to the area and my daughter is scared to death about starting middle school this year. When I talk to her about what she is afraid of she usually says everything but once in a while she will mention how nobody’s going to like her and how she won’t know where to go. I am trying to work with her but she is still seems really worried. Any suggestions would be helpful. 

Concerned mom

Answer: I was doggie paddling to the muffled sound of encouraging words and, as usual, relying on the belt around my waist to keep me above water. When I returned to the pool’s edge applause erupted and I heard my mother tell me to look on my back. “What?” I declared. “Where are my floaties?” Unbeknownst to me my mom and swim instructor had removed the Styrofoam flotation device from my belt before I jumped into the pool!

For every child the transition to middle school is like being thrown into a pool full of logistical, social, and academic concerns without a flotation device strapped to her back to ensure she stays above water. The level of confidence you have in your daughter’s ability to successfully complete this task must be equal to the level of confidence my mother and instructor had in me when they made the decision to remove my floaties and encourage me to jump. Once you convince yourself there is no pool to big or too deep for her to handle you will safeguard against the possibility of transferring any of your own worry or anxiety onto your daughter. You will also be better prepared to help develop the skills she needs to take the plunge on her own.

Your first initiative will be to circumvent her possible fear of being late for class and ending up in detention. Get her a combination lock on which to practice. The school may even let her try out an actual locker over vacation. Set up a good organizational system for her schoolwork and papers so she isn’t fumbling for what she needs between classes. Make sure she has an easy to read watch so she won’t lose track of time. Obtain her class schedule and a map of the school before classes resume. Mark her classrooms and locker on the map and ask for permission to go on walking tour to show her where everything is located. Afterwards, put the map in her book-bag for quick reference and instruct her to ask a teacher for directions sooner rather than later when she can’t find where she needs to go.

Next, be sure to address her extremely valid social concerns. Listen sympathetically to her whenever she needs to talk. Emphasize something positive and discuss what being a good friend really means. It’s also a good idea to arrange weekend social activities with your neighborhood or church and to encourage her to join school sport teams, clubs, or other extracurricular activities to ease her loneliness. Pursue these extracurricular opportunities only when you know she is ready; a premature shove into the deep end may end up negating any gains you’ve helped make to her confidence.

To overcome her academic concerns acknowledge her schoolwork may be hard but reassure her she, along with your steady support, will succeed and that her grades are only a part of who she is. Encourage her to be her own advocate by discussing problems and solutions with her teachers while reminding her you will be there if she needs. Stay connected with her teachers and schoolwork to avoid being surprised by and overacting to her grades. Never delay calling upon the service of a tutor as soon as you detect a need. Keep your daughter on a good schedule; balance her play, chores, school, and rest. If she is too tired or to stressed her brain cannot function properly and her overall performance will suffer.

Without adequate preparation and unwavering support I likely would have become weak, anxious, unconfident, and panicked. Yes, my mom and teacher were there to throw me a lifesaver or to get their own clothes wet but they believed there would be no need and as a result there was not. On that one summer day I not only realized I could swim on my own but also gained the self-confidence I needed to unbuckle and cast my belt aside once and for all.

Abbie Long is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to