Managing the Transition Back to School
One of the toughest parts of back-to-school season is trading in the light, lazy days of summer for a school year schedule wound tight. With school comes stricter wake-up times and packed schedules — not to mention a whole host of new rules and obligations and expectations to juggle.
Such a big change can be really jarring for kids and their parents. Thankfully, there are a few things you or your nanny or sitter can do to make the transition as smooth as possible for your whole family.
1. Restart Routines. Kids need time to adjust, so provide a head start. About two weeks before school starts, make bedtime earlier and dust off the alarm clock. Aim to serve meals at approximately the same times your child will be eating throughout the school year.
2. Go Over Ground Rules. Decide when and where she’ll do homework. Be sure to cover tricky topics: Can she watch TV after she finishes her work? How late can friends visit on school nights? When’s the caffeine cutoff? What about chores? Establishing guidelines and going over them together will make sure you’re on the same page once school’s in session
3. De-Stress Dressing. Let your child choose special first-day clothes — a souvenir shirt from a park you visited this summer or a new dress to match her best friend’s. To avoid arguing over school-appropriate clothes, bring the fall wardrobe front and center. Replace sandals and swimsuits with socks, sneakers, and lightweight sweaters.
4. Develop a Game Plan — Together. Discuss goals for the upcoming year, triumphs from the year before, and some skills he would like to improve. Goals might include:
- Making three new friends or sitting at a different lunch table every week
- Becoming captain of the chess team or a spelling bee finalist
- Making the honor roll
5. Keep Passions in Play. If your child became a weaving whiz at summer camp or a diving champ at the local pool, keep it going. Integrate new summer hobbies into the school year by finding after-school clubs or groups that will let her continue to do the cool new things she tried this summer!
6. Summon the Learning Spirit. Assign creative “homework” as summer wanes: Ask him to identify a paw print in the park or photograph something that changes colors. Make family flashcards and quiz each other: What was the farthest you went from home this summer? What plans were rained out?
7. Take a Family Field Trip. Plan one last fact-packed trip to top off months of water parks and baseball games. You don’t have to go far: Visit a nature sanctuary to learn about different plants and trees, or examine an old ship down at the docks.
8. Set Up a Homework Area. Create a quiet, well-lit space for study. Prevent first day freak-outs by hauling out the necessities: backpack, dictionary, atlas, calculator, art supplies, paper, and pencils. Make it personal and fun, but free from distractions.
9. Sharpen Skills. Add more factual brain-bending activities into the everyday mix. Sudoku games, crossword puzzles, word searches, and trivia all encourage your child to sit still, focus, and complete a task from start to finish.
10. Go for a Test Run. Take a trip to school, and get familiar with the new classroom. Make sure to find the cafeteria, gym, theater, and library. Don’t forget about bathrooms! It’s also a good time to size up cubbies and try out lockers.
When should you get help?
Kids who have trouble separating often just need time, and support from parents and teachers, to adjust. But if your child is having severe meltdowns at drop-off time for more than two or three weeks, and is unable to recover or to even stay at school, for more than three or four weeks, then seeking help can make a big difference.
Treatment for separation anxiety is usually involves a therapist working with the child and the parents to plan step-by-step ways for them to practice separating a little at a time.
Therapists often work with teachers, too, to see what they can be doing to help and make sure they are on the same page with parents. Therapy also involves helping anxious kids talk to themselves and reassure themselves that they’re okay in difficult moments.
In some cases kids may resist going back to school because the quarantine was actually a lot easier for them than going to school — kids with a lot of social anxiety, or who were bullied, or kids with learning disorders who had an easier time at home where they could do things at their own pace. Therapists can explore with them what aspects of school they don’t like or don’t want to do, even if you’re not sure at first.