Whether your child is starting school for the first time, or entering his or her senior year of High School, transitioning from a summer to school schedule can be stressful. It is natural for children and parents alike to feel a myriad of emotions – ranging from excited and happy to anxious and scared. You can help calm your child’s fears (and your own) by following these tips:
Anticipate and address your child’s anxiety
Going back to school is stressful for kids of all ages, so head off the stress before school even starts. Talk to your children about new experiences and transitions, and listen to any concerns that they might have. Invite them to a conversation about what they are nervous, or excited about. This is a time to brainstorm with your child about possible solutions, resources, and skills that they have available to them to address any issues that might arise.
Familiarize your child with his or her new surroundings
Familiarizing your child with his or her new surroundings is one way to help keep anxiety at bay. For young children, make an effort to introduce them to his or her new teacher. For older kids, take advantage of your school’s open house or back-to-school night. Some teachers welcome phone calls or emails, which is another great opportunity to get to know each other before the year begins. If personal contact with the teacher isn’t possible, try locating the teacher’s picture on a school website or in a yearbook, so your child can put a name with a face.
If your child is going to a new school, consider taking a tour of the school. For older children, or children who are driving themselves to school, encourage them to practice their route to the school and familiarize themselves with where to park and what to expect on the drive.
Connect with friends
A familiar face can make all the difference when heading back to school. For younger children, make an effort to connect with parents of children who are going to the same school and set-up play dates. For older children, encourage them to reach out and get together before school starts. You might consider setting up a carpool or having a “back to school party” for kids who are going to be in the same class.
Ease back into scheduled days
Many children enjoy a more relaxed schedule during the summer. However, if your kids are staying up and watching movies until 1am, shifting to the early morning school rush can be a real shock to their system. To help young children ease back into the school routine, about a week before the first day of school, start their bed time routine about 10 minutes earlier each night and wake them up 10 minutes earlier each morning, every day, until they’re back on track. For older children, help ease the transition by practicing the morning routine a few days in advance. Set an alarm clock and go through your morning rituals. Routines help children of all ages feel more comfortable and establishing a solid routine will help make the first day of school go much smoother.
Have a conversation with your child – young or old about what the expectations are for the school year. Include your child in this conversation by asking him or her to share their goals for the school year. Review commitments for extracurricular activities and ensure that there are blocks of time set aside for fun and down time during the week.
Discuss ahead of time expectations for the morning and bedtime routine, and set a weekday and a weekend bedtime and enforce it strictly. Identify what areas will be used as homework space, and remove distractions such as TV’s and video game consoles from the homework areas.
Throughout the year make sure that you or another adult is available to be present with children to monitor homework time and be available to answer questions and help as needed. You will also need to help kids prioritize their activities each week, including sports, homework and family time.
Manage your own anxiety
Probably most importantly, it is necessary for parents to manage their own anxiety about school starting. Maintaining a positive attitude about summer ending will help your child be excited about school starting again. If you’re relaxed and calm, your children will head off to school feeling excited and ready to get to work.
If the first few days are a little rough, try not to overreact. Young children in particular may experience separation anxiety or shyness initially but teachers are trained to help them adjust. If you drop them off, try not to linger. Reassure them that you love them, will think of them during the day, and that you, or someone else that you trust will be back to pick them up.
During the first week of school, try to postpone business trips, volunteer meetings, and extra projects. You may want to be free to help your child acclimate to the school routine and overcome the confusion or anxiety that many children experience at the start of a new school year.
When problems arise
When problems arise that seem more intense than is typical, or linger for longer than what would be considered a usual adjustment time, consider seeking professional support. It is very common for young children to experience separation anxiety that can be addressed in therapy. For older kids and teens, specific academic or social problems may be getting in the way of their ability to fully participate in school. Therapy Changes offers therapeutic services specialized for children and adolescents, in addition to a weekly Teen Support groups that are helpful for teens managing the stressors of adolescents.