Now, imagine having a full three months off and then having to return to work. Unless you’re a teacher, you probably don’t get that much time away from your workplace. Kids, however, have to adjust every fall to a new classroom, a new teacher, new classmates and acclimate to the new routine.
If your child doesn’t like school, getting him excited about the upcoming school year may be difficult. Even kids who enjoy school may struggle to adjust to the schedule, or have anxiety regarding the changes.
One of the most important ways parents can prepare their children is by gradually reintroducing them to the school bed time and wake up time. Increasing structure and keeping activities predictable may also prove beneficial. Get them in the same routines they will be in when school begins.
Having discussions about the upcoming school year can help, too. Parents can talk to their children about the fun activities that await them in their grade or what new projects they will get to complete. Parents can reinforce what their kids liked about the last school year, even if it was just gym and recess. Be sure to check out the classroom or meet the teacher if possible. Reducing unknowns can have a powerful impact on any child’s anxiety.
Of equal importance is determining if anything is bothering your child about the upcoming school year. Is your child concerned about bullying, not doing well in science, nervous he won’t make friends or scared about getting a new teacher? Know what’s at the root of your child’s resistance so you can help resolve or prevent any core issues. Relay any concerns to the teacher so he or she can also be aware.
Talk about making new friends and validate any of those nervous feelings that accompany new friends. Be sure your child has up to par social skills and can initiate conversation with classmates. For especially shy kiddos, try role playing introductions or practice talking to the teacher before school begins. It never hurts to reinforce calming coping skills, either, like guided imagery or deep breathing.
Make sure to involve your child when picking out school clothes or school supplies. Kids get excited over new book bags and lunch boxes, and this makes school a little less daunting. Allow them to have some control over what goes in their lunches and include special treats to look forward to. Make sure to lay out school clothes for the week early, especially if you suspect your child will be difficult in the mornings. If your child loves pancakes or French toast, prepare them on those first few days if your schedule allows.
I found a helpful article on the website, http://childcare.about.com/od/behaviors/bb/backtoschool.htm. The author suggested that parents send a picture of the family to school to reduce separation anxiety. A note for the child would also work. The website recommended developing a goodbye ritual, too. A hug, handshake or a special saying can provide comfort and reassurance. After completing the ritual, it’s best not to hang around. Make the goodbye time short.
After sending your child to school, keep an eye out for any significant behavioral changes or cues to a festering problem. Be sure to ask open-ended questions about the school day and pay attention to the responses. While anxiety and nerves are normal for the first couple of weeks, don’t let it go on too long. Talk with the teacher and the school guidance counselor if necessary.
Likewise, it may be helpful to increase quality, one-on-one time in the evenings with your child. She is probably missing you throughout the school day, so taking a few minutes to play a game or prepare dinner together can reduce some of the separation anxiety concerns.
Be sure to incorporate new routines early. Establish a homework time, figure times for extracurricular activities and sports and agree on when baths will occur. Kids thrive on the predictability of schedules and they are comforted by the structure. It’s probably best to allow kids some time to decompress after school before beginning homework, but you know your child best. Construct a schedule that will meet your unique child’s needs and flow with the family’s rhythm.
Lastly, try to take advantage of back to school time. Take a nap. Pick up a new hobby. Take another nap. Do whatever it is you need to do to refresh, because before you know it, summer will be rolling back around.
And once again, you’ll be pulling out your hair, saying, “How many days until school starts?”
Published: August 8, 2012