Transitions, regardless of whether they are wanted or not, are challenging! Although many children will say that they look forward to going back to school, the transition can bring about stress that parents might not expect. For instance, kids might become clingy, moody or irritable if they have anxiety about leaving a school or teacher or starting something new in the fall. To get a healthy start to the new school year, parents can do a few things before classes begin to help children start off on the right foot.

Five ways to help ensure a smooth back-to-school transition

  1. Talk to your child. Your child may appreciate that you recognize that these transitions, even if welcome, are not easy. It might also help them to identify where some of their negative feelings are coming from. For younger kids, read books about ending or starting school (for example, Franklin, Berenstain Bears, etc.) or let them draw pictures about their experience or feelings or act out scenarios with toys/dolls. For older kids, listen carefully without judging or trying to solve the problem. If your child does not want to discuss it, don’t force them to, but let them know you are ready to listen anytime they want to talk.
  2. Identify stressors and make small changes to help. For example, if your child is bored by the slower pace of summer, schedule some activities or find a way to create more structure. If your child is anxious about leaving old friends behind or making new friends, set up social activities with friends from a previous class or a new class.
  3. Try a “dress rehearsal” to get them used to the routine or the new location, building or classroom. Let them check it out ahead of time and talk about what it will be like. Remind them it can be hard at first but that it will get easier and you will be there to help them. Remind them of how nervous they were the previous year and praise them for how they adjusted then.
  4.  Meet your child’s teachers before the school year starts. To be proactive, parents should meet with, and allow their child to meet with, their educators in advance. This way, guardians can check in about school supplies, coursework or books their child should start reading. They can also use this time to find out about the teacher’s expectations for success in the classroom, from average hours of homework each week to tips they use to help students excel in the classroom. A quick meeting can be helpful for high school students and support positive teacher-student relationships, which could lead to college recommendations, suggestions about ways to advance in studies or how get tutoring or other support.
  5. Establish sleep routines a few weeks before school starts. One of the best things parents can do a few weeks before school starts is get children into a regular sleep routine. Most children need 8-10 hours of sleep a night. Unsurprisingly, a healthy sleep pattern supports physical and mental health benefits. Students who get adequate sleep are more likely to feel alert in the classroom and less likely to experience physical harm from sleep deprivation, which could range from missing a hole on the sports field and rolling an ankle, to missing a stop sign when they’re behind the wheel.

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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