How To Help Your Child Cope With The Back To School Transition

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It’s back to school time! While nearly everyone thinks about the pencils and backpacks and new clothes needed to be adequately prepared for classes to start, it’s important to think about the other “stuff” your kids need even more than that really cool new lunchbox they just HAVE to have. (Come ON Mom, didn’t you know that Frozen stopped being cool last year?!)

I’m talking about how to emotionally prepare them for starting back to school. After a summer of fun, sun and flexibility, kids will be back to the world of rules, structure and absorbing all the required information that is taught to them every day. But, before we cover that portion, let’s also review your own feelings of your kids starting school.

Be Aware of Your Own Feelings

Most parents experience a mixture of feelings related to their kids going to school. This depends partially on the age of your child and which child it is you are sending off on the school bus. If it is your 1st child’s first day of school, you will probably have a much different reaction than your neighbor who is sending her 4th kid off to high school. Parents report feelings of pride, apprehension, nervousness, sadness, fear, love, gratitude, relief, worry, and happiness. Any combination of these or other feelings is completely normal.

Many full time at-home Moms or Dads may struggle with the change in their day without their children needing their constant attention. This is also very normal! But, if you notice you start to feel sad, down, lacking in energy or feeling a lack of purpose beyond the first few days it might be a good idea to talk to someone about it. This is a time for parents to have more time to do the adult things they need or want to be able to do – so go do it!

So, back to the kids…

Kids have many different needs including emotional needs to thrive. The school environment can be very fun yet very demanding at the same time. Let’s cover some of the basics that you can do to help get your kids off to a great emotional start this school year:

1) Start moving their bedtime earlier than it has been for the summer.

Going to bed at 10PM and waking up at 6AM (or earlier!) is not enough sleep for nearly every young school age child out there. They won’t have the ability to sleep in to make up for lost time if they get to bed late. This could lead to them being too tired to focus and pay attention as well as possibly causing irritability, agitation, and possible behavioral problems. Perhaps start bedtime 10-15 minutes earlier each night in the week or so before school until you get to a more ideal school bedtime.

2) Set a consistent bedtime and stick to it!

Our bodies respond best, emotionally and physically, to a set wake/sleep pattern. And yes, even the most responsible of teenagers need a set bedtime. If your child is old enough and has the ability for self-reflection, you could have a conversation about this with them including what they think would be reasonable based on how they feel.

While each child is different, the general guideline for bedtime is the younger they are, the earlier the bedtime needs to be. What time is the best time? That depends on your child. If you are unsure, start with an earlier time than you may think. It is better to have them get too much sleep and push it slightly later than the other way around.

3) Routine, routine, routine!

Kids thrive on predictability, consistency, and routine. This is what helps them to feel safe and secure. If a child does not feel secure, they will not have the emotional ability to take in all they are expected to learn. So, have the same daily practices before school, and the same routines when they get home. A good after school routine allows kids to decompress a little from their busy day before starting things like homework.

4) Notice how they are handling the changes

A new teacher, new classmates, new expectations, new rules, and maybe a new building. That is a LOT for kids to take in. They have to adjust to all this newness, process it, and figure out how it feels. Pay attention to how your child is handling it and take note of any negative changes in behavior.

This also means consider their after school activities: it may be tempting to fit in all sorts of new after school activities right when they start, but you may want to consider waiting to see how your child handles school before tacking on additional new experiences right away.

5) Talk to Them

Talk with your child about what to expect for the first day. Discuss what may be different than last year. Maybe share one of your 1st day of school memories (if appropriate). Kids feel better if they know what to expect. If your child seems particularly uneasy, see if you can tour their new classroom or meet the teacher.

When your child gets home, ask about their day using open ended questions. You don’t want to ask what can be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.” Things like “What was your favorite part of the day?” or “What was something interesting you learned today?” are good ways to start communication. Extra points for the parents who include this as part of the daily routine after school or at the dinner table.

What else can help?

There are many other things you can do to support your child’s school success like making sure they have good nutrition (more to come about this in a future post!), discussing bullying, having a good relationship with their teacher, and showing interest in their daily accomplishments. I hope this is a good starting point and please let me know your thoughts!

If you have any concerns about your child’s transition back-to-school or other school related issues, please contact our office at 717-723-8653 to schedule an initial consultation.

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Author: Whitney Halleman, LPC

Whitney is a licensed professional counselor who loves working with teen girls so they can live healthier lives and be more confident. She is happy to be living in her hometown of Lancaster again after living out of the area for the last ten years. She can be reached at: whitney@moveforwardlancaster.com.