Heading back to school can be a time of great excitement for kids and parents. Getting new school supplies, buying a new outfit, or wearing a new pair of shoes is fun. But along with all the excitement, there is often a great deal of stress around going back to school.
When kids head back to school, they have to manage meeting new teachers and classmates, adjust to classroom expectations, and adapt to a new and unfamiliar social situation. All this on top of learning new information. In fact, school is often the most challenging part of a child’s day because it requires all their skills. They must access their social, self-regulation, and thinking skills to be successful. Children who struggle more than most with one or more of these skills can find school to be a pretty tough place.
What can you do to help make the transition back to school as smooth as possible?
Leave as little as possible to the unknown. If your child is anxious or negative about the start of school, plan a few trips to school before the first day. Ask for a quick, private introduction to the new teacher, volunteer to get classrooms ready, or check out some of the topics to be covered during the year. The more exposure your child has to their teacher and classroom before school starts, the less anxious they are likely to be.
Take it one step at a time.
The first few weeks of school are really about getting back into the routine. So focus on sleep and wake times, getting out the door on time, and remembering to pack needed items for school. Keeping the same routine everyday will make this easier to master. At the end of the first week assess what worked and what didn’t.
Maybe your child needs to wake up a few minutes earlier to get ready for school. Maybe it would help to put all their things by the front door in the evening. Try keeping a school survival box in your car or at the front door of what you need. Fill your survival box with granola bars, lunch money, sharpened pencils, an extra set of gym clothes, or whatever it is that your child seems to forget on a regular basis. Once the morning routine is going smoothly, take on another task such as the homework routine. Follow the same process, make a plan. Try it out for a week and assess whether or not your plan needs tweaking.
We place more and more demands on our young people every year. At times, it seems we have forgotten what we can reasonably expect from children at each stage of development. If your child’s work load or a particular assignment seems way beyond what he can manage, help him to set his own goals. Maybe together you decide to complete four parts of a five part project and accept the lower grade this time.
Know your child.
Every child learns differently and needs different things to be successful at school. Some kids study best in the middle of all the family action. While others need a quiet space. Some kids need a break before starting homework. Others need to get it finished right away. There are lots of ways to be successful at schoolwork. Give your child a chance to try different things in order to figure out what is best for them.
Call in the troops.
If your child is really struggling with the start of the new school year, let someone at school know quickly. Ask for a meeting with your child’s new teacher or the school counselor. Letting school staff know sooner rather than later is critical. Let them know your child is struggling and what you think might help. This can prevent months of stress!
Going back to school is not easy for most children. They are out of routine, out of practice, and possibly tired from a summer of later bedtimes. Taking the above steps can help that transition go more smoothly. And truly, you are not decreasing the stress only for your child, but for yourself as well. A little proactive preparation can help everyone get started off on the right back-to-school foot!