Back to school. The words evoke the smell of new, pointy crayons, squeaky tennis shoes, and stiff jeans. For some families, the orange bus can’t come soon enough, for others it marks the arrival of new schedules and added stress. The following are a few tips to make the back to school transition a bit smoother.
Personalities: The temperament of your child makes a big difference in how those first weeks back will go. Some kids love the excitement of anything new. A different teacher, new room, maybe even new friends, but for the kids for whom that is not the case, planning ahead can ease some of that anxiety.
One of the simplest ways is to start talking about the first day of school in advance. Is there something they are excited about? Unsure about? Wondering? Notice I didn’t say “scared” or “nervous”. This slight reframe can change the tone of the conversation from one of fear to one of strategy and information gathering. Visualizing what the first day will be like can help. “First we’ll have breakfast, then walk to the bus stop, then when you go into the school you’ll walk to Ms. Johnson’s class and meet your classmates, then lunch, etc…” See if along the way there are points that your child seems concerned. Another helpful tool is having a calendar in a common area such as the kitchen that counts down the days until school and shows what events are leading up to it.
Routines: Summer is often fun-filled with vacations, camps, trips to amusement parks, and the like. This combined with long days and no need to get up early for school can mean that kids are up late and sleeping late. Schools typically start the day after Labor Day and I would recommend getting kids used to the new sleep schedules in advance of this. Whether it’s for a few days or a week will depend on how easily your child transitions.
Food: We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but mornings can be hectic. Getting it ready in advance or showing your kids how to get their own can be a time saver and help them get off to a good start in the morning.
Some ideas: a cereal bar with a glass of milk or the night before, pour a low-sugar cereal into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and have the milk in a glass in the fridge so your child can simply add the milk to the bowl and eat. Yogurt drinks, pre-cut fruit, or a mini bagel with cream cheese are other ideas. Getting kids involved in their choices early on can help pave the way for healthy food choices. In addition, having a solid snack to get them through until lunch is important for many kids as all that learning has their brains firing and burning up extra calories. For some kids, experiencing this diabetic-like drop in blood sugar can cause emotional outbursts, difficulty focusing, and low energy.
“I lost my homework.”: For parents of tweens heading into junior high, hold on tight. This can be a tough transition for many kids and keeping the lines of communication open is important. Another challenge I hear parents talk about is organization. For some kids, the new found responsibilities of junior high and high school highlight the difficulty some kids have with organization or executive functioning. Three highly recommended books on the topic are: Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary "Executive Skills" Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare; Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents' Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning by Joyce Cooper-Kahn, Ph.D.; and Where's My Stuff?: The Ultimate Teen Organizing Guide by Samantha Moss.
Exercise: For many kids the hardest part of back to school is the abrupt switch from days filled with bike riding, sports camps, and playground games to hours and hours of sitting inside. Just like adults, kids need to discharge that stress and another tip for transitioning back to school is finding ways for them to get exercise several days a week. It could be as simple as a family walk around the block, setting up an obstacle course in the backyard that they can do while dinner is being made, or take advantage of Olympic fever and hold your own competitions with Xbox games that involve movement.
Role Model: Finally, what is your attitude towards school? Is it dread? Excitement about learning? Kids pick up on the subtle and not so subtle opinions you might have. Do you keep any sort of annual tradition like a first day of school photo in the same location each year or pancakes the first morning back? We have all heard people say, “The years go so fast.” Why not create some fun, memory-making moments to help lay the foundation for a love learning as your children climb aboard the school bus once again.