Getting Ready for A Successful School Year

Although it’s still August, it’s not too early to start preparing your children for the back-to-school transition. By following the tips below, you can help your children get a smooth start to the new school year.

Get back to a “school-friendly” sleep schedule. Schedules often become more lax in the summertime, particularly bedtimes. When bedtimes start getting later and later, wake-up times often get pushed back as well. As fun as that is for the summertime, it is important to help children get back on a school year sleep schedule. Ideally, this change should begin about two weeks before school starts in order to help children fully adjust to the appropriate bedtime and wake time for school. Rather than presenting it as a punishment, talk with your children about the benefits of getting more sleep.

Deal with “I don’t want to go to school”. Summer is typically a fun, laidback, low-stress time for children, so it’s no wonder that the return of a more structured, demanding setting brings a bit of trepidation. The thing to watch for as a parent, though, is when this reluctance to go back to school becomes more significant. If you’re seeing an increase in anxiety in other areas, he/she is exhibiting more behavior problems, and/or if your child has had some negative experiences at school in the past, then it makes sense to spend some time talking with your child about exactly what he/she is feeling so worried about and problem-solving more specifically about ways to make school feel more comfortable and rewarding for your child.

Focus on the positives. A lot of children light up when they talk about their friends, their kind teachers, or the games they play at recess. Be sure to get your child talking about what he/she liked about school last year (and feel free to give reminders if they “can’t remember” anything good about school) and things he/she might be looking forward to at school this year.

Meet the teacher/tour the school. Many schools offer an orientation or opportunity to meet the teacher before the first day of school. Whenever possible, take advantage of these opportunities because it can help ease children’s anxiety. Also, in the case of school transitions, such as to kindergarten or starting middle school or high school, be sure to schedule a tour of the school so that children can familiarize themselves with the surroundings. These kinds of opportunities will go a long way toward minimizing anxiety associated with a new setting or new teacher.

Maintain family routines. It is common for routines to get disrupted once school begins. It can be hard to maintain Tuesday evening family bike rides, for example, when the demands of school come into play again. Near the start of school and during school, however, are exactly the times when those family routines are needed. Family time and family traditions provide a sense of comfort and safety to children and they are especially important during times of transition.

Going back to school can be stressful even for students who really enjoy school. A little extra support and reminders about the positive aspects of school should be enough to help them make the transition successfully. However, if you notice that the transition back to school is causing significant stress for your child or for your family, it may be helpful to seek professional support.

Kelly Theis, Ph.D.
August 15, 2010

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