Although it may feel hard to believe, summer has drawn to a close and the new school year is officially in full swing. This transition can be a difficult time for all families, especially as the excitement of the new school year begins to wear off and kids shift into the daily “grind” of the academic calendar, often in stark contrast to the freedom they enjoyed over the summer. During the beginning weeks of school, kids are kept physically and mentally busy adjusting to new behavioral expectations, schedules, and academic demands. They may also experience uncertainty around acclimating to new teachers and classmates. To keep kids motivated and going strong during this period, it is useful to maintain routine and structure, but also to make room for fun and free time along the way so that kids do not fall “into a rut” regarding their academic and after-school schedules. Parents can also help their child adjust to this time by staying patient and alert to any signs that their child is beginning to feel overwhelmed. Some ideas for ways to help kids navigate those first few weeks and months of school include:
• Anticipate and Understand Changes in Behavior: During the first month of school, it is common for kids to feel more fatigued, especially if there have been changes in the bedtime or waking routine from summer to the school year. The school year schedule tends to be more demanding physically, mentally, and emotionally, especially if a child has learning or attentional problems. Less time for physical activity can also impact kids’ mood and energy levels. Parents should be aware of these factors and understand that children may exhibit temporary behavioral changes as a result of this stress and fatigue, such as increased irritability, defiance, or emotional outbursts at home. By modeling staying calm, validating their feelings, and assisting with suggestions for ways to cope, you can help your child move more easily through this tough time.
• Talk About It: Making time every day to talk to your child about what is going on at school can help reduce any anxiety that may be naturally stirred by the new school year. It also shows your child that you are interested in their academic life, which can help promote their own motivation toward school and keep you informed about areas where they feel they are struggling. This time can also be used to help kids brainstorm ways to handle any problems they are experiencing in school, including social conflicts or academic concerns.
• Create a Study Space: Designating a space specifically for completing homework also helps with consistency, and can reduce any extra stress naturally caused by disorganization. A quiet, well-lit room with a desk or table where kids can concentrate on their work is ideal. Make sure that any necessary school supplies are available in this space as well. Kids may also enjoy helping set up or decorate their special study space.
• Maintain Consistency: With so many changes occurring in the classroom setting, parents can help their children by keeping the after-school schedule as consistent and predictable as possible. A visual schedule, such as a large calendar, can help children feel more prepared for what each day will entail in terms of after-school activities.
• Build in Free Time: While keeping a schedule and routine can create a sense of security, it is also important to make sure your child is not overscheduled. Purposefully building downtime into their daily routine offers a chance to unwind and recharge after a long and potentially taxing day of schoolwork.
• Don’t Forget Encouragement!: Make sure to offer specific praise and reinforcement when your child is successful, especially if they struggle with learning or behavioral challenges. Focusing on the areas where they are doing well can enhance motivation and help mitigate the challenges they might face while adjusting to the new routine.
By providing patience, consistency, and a safe outlet for your child to discuss any stressors that may come up, you can help your child navigate the new school year and make the experience as positive as possible.
Kati Ann Leonberger, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist