Back to School Transitions: Tips for Parents By: Brenda Arnold, MS, NCC, LPCC

Aug 11, 2014 by Brenda Arnold, MS

For most families, summer has been a time of spontaneous trips to the Dairy Queen, swimming with friends, late dinners, late bedtimes, bonfires, vacation and a freedom from the more rigid school schedule.  With fall just around the corner, you may have mixed emotions about school starting again.  Letting go of the flexibility and embracing the transition to school mode, can be filled with anxiety and dread.

It can helpful to anticipate change and some anxiety that may come along with that change.  Going back to school is stressful for children of all ages, so it can be helpful to talk with your children about some of the anticipated experiences/changes.

So, how do we as parents help our children (and ourselves) through this transition?

First of all, enjoy the remaining days of summer is a must, particularly in Minnesota!

Secondly, it will be important to start the planning process early, below are some tips to creating a positive back-to-school transition:

Managing your child’s anxiety

 Do not overreact.  If the first few days are a little rough, try not to over react.  It is common for young children in particular to experience separation anxiety.  Try not to linger when you drop them off, reassure them that you love them, will think of them throughout the day and will be back.

Remain calm and positive.  If your child had a bad experience the previous year it can make it more difficult to make school transition, particularly when bullying has taken place.  As a parent share your concerns with the school and make sure this problem has been or will be addressed.  Reassure your child that in the new school year the problem may not happen again and you will help them to feel supported through this process.

Reinforce you child ability to cope. Spend time teaching your child strategies to manage difficult situations that may arise, as well as role playing those with your child to help develop confidence.  Set up a protocol for your child if a stressful situation happens that they are not comfortable handling, who they should alert and how it should it be handled.

Arrange friend connections/play dates before school starts.   Re-establishing friendships before school starts and during the first weeks of school can help your child build friendships and lessen anxiety when school starts, as well as the during the initial weeks of school. 

Gradually ease back into scheduled days.  Making the change to early morning routines and early bedtimes can be a difficult transition for children.  Starting this adjustment a few weeks before school starts can be very helpful.  Changing bedtime by increments of 10 minutes earlier each night and waking 10 minutes earlier in the morning each day until they are on schedule for school will help them adjust to the time change.

For anxiety ridden children and children who struggle with routine change.   Visiting your school before it starts so the child can get familiar with where his or her room, locker, office etc. without the added stress of crowds. Also, sending a special token or a family picture may help a child feel loved and secure while away from home.

Managing your anxiety as a parent 

Have a positive attitude.  As parents it is important to have a positive attitude about school starting.  If you are nervous about school starting, your children will be nervous about school starting.  Becoming aware of your feelings of separation anxiety can be essential in setting a positive emotional tone for your child’s transition.

Lighten your load. If you are able to lighten your schedule the first week of school in order to manage and anticipate the unexpected, this can also beneficial to overall family stress, as well as allow for more time for your child to process with you.

Remember to do basic logistics and preparations for school early

Plan your calendar:  Organize events, lessons, clubs etc. and put them on your calendar.

Review all paperwork: Sign, copy and review all paperwork early to ensure your child has the proper information, meal plan and permission slips (remember to make copies for your records, these can get lost easily once they make it to your child’s school bag).

Buy supplies early: If your child needs something specific, items can get picked over or become out of stock if you wait too long.  (Also, you do not want to have your child miss out on their favorite Hello Kitty or Ninja Turtle folder!)

Set alarms:   Help your child set his alarm and practice using before school starts.

Make lunches and choose clothing the night before:  Make lunches with your child the night before and pick out their clothing choices (I recommend two just in case there is a problem).  This process can eliminate last minute stressors in the morning. 

Lastly, it will be important to note that some children may display problematic behaviors that seem extreme in nature or difficult to manage that may require more direct or indirect support to reduce the presenting problems.  If you are concerned about your child or notice behaviors such as:  Excessive and ongoing anxiety that causes significant distress, severe mood swings, extreme outbursts of anger, feeling down or depressed most every day, significant weight loss and insomnia, it would be beneficial to get additional support from professionals.  Addressing issues early so they do not become problematic during the school year is important.

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