7 steps to get back to school smoothly

It’s the time of year that provokes a myriad of emotions in parents and children – from excitement and gleeful anticipation to dread, anxiety, and apprehension.  Some children complain of summer boredom and look forward to school supply shopping and re-establishing relationships with school friends, while others mentally count the days until they are confronted with challenging academics and difficult-to-negotiate social situations.  Some parents mourn the end of summer days, relaxed schedules and bedtimes, while others eagerly anticipate the regularity and consistent patterns school days bring.  Whatever your state of mind, here are some simple strategies for easing yourself and your family back to school:

BacktoSchool11)    Begin to organize your home and family for the return to school.  Getting ready for the transition means different things to different families, but traditions and rituals help prepare kids psychologically for the change.  Begin to talk to your children about their expectations and fears for the school year, showing that worries are a normal part of new experiences.  When you help your children express thoughts and emotions, you help them problem solve their “what if” questions and reassure them that they can competently manage tricky situations.

2)    One to two weeks before the beginning of school, parents should gradually start the process of moving to school bedtimes and wake-up times.  Shifting wake times gradually earlier each morning should create earlier evening fatigue, making earlier bedtimes smoother. Of course, making sure children get the required hours of sleep each night during the school year helps improve concentration, attention, focus, frustration tolerance, and emotional regulation.

3)    Family routines or traditions marking the end of the summer help prepare children for the change in their lives.  Back-to-school shopping days, family calendars with a countdown to the first day of school, and special meals signal to children that schedules are changing.  Parents can help children organize their desks in preparation for homework or create a special place in the home designated for homework.

4)     The key to helping children who may be particularly sensitive or anxious about change is to familiarize them with their worries.  Practicing new routines eases worries and discomfort.  Visiting the classroom and meeting the teacher, checking out the playground and cafeteria and school bus helps make the unknown known, and provides children with a sense of confidence and mastery.

5)    Play dates can be helpful for children with a shy temperament, social anxiety, or for children entering a new school. If possible, obtain the class list and help your child make social connections with classmates before school starts.  Spotting a familiar face on the first day of school may help to dissipate worries about finding a lunch or playground buddy.

6)    Be more available at the beginning of the school year.  Find time to talk with your child about concerns and difficulties early in the year so that small problems don’t escalate into big ones.  Be available to hear about concerns, but also assist your child with focusing on the positive aspects of school, i.e., “What was your favorite part of the day?”

7)    Finally, relax! Remember, children take their emotional cues from their parents.  Modeling a calm disposition toward this annual milestone will in turn help your child approach it with a sense of anticipation and confidence.

Have a great school year!

Catherine Hutter, PhD About Catherine Hutter, PhD

Catherine Hutter, Ph.D. is a psychologist with the Department of Psychology at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She sees children and adolescents in her office in Ladue. Dr. Hutter is married and the mother of a teenager and a young adult. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, running, biking and sharing her children’s many activities and interests.

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