The countdown begins! It is approximately one month before school begins for most students. We start seeing school supplies in the front of grocery and super stores and our minds start turning involuntarily toward the new academic year. While for some children, this brings excitement and enthusiasm, for many others, it brings much apprehension and dread. A friend of mine told me about her son during this specific time each year. As a young girl, she had always loved the opportunity to buy new school supplies, a new lunch box, new school clothes, and so on. After several years of a repetitive scenario, she learned that the “Back to School” advertisements and displays in stores brought on quite another feeling for her young son. It was difficult for her to understand why he would not want a new lunch box or want to go shopping! After all, this was a most joyous time in her youth! But for her son, like many children I know, it meant the beginning of new anxiety and worries. He was beyond bright and scholarly, yet he experienced anxiety about the new teacher, the new school, the new rules and routines, the new expectations, and often the new social dynamics.
For many children, the unknowns cause them to feel anxious about a new school year. For some, it may be past negative experiences such as being bullied or academic struggles. It may be even as simple as your child being introverted and they have been in school long enough to anticipate the social and sensory overload that they will soon experience. Whatever the reason for your child feeling anxious, here are 10 tips that will help ease the transition back to school:
1. Begin a more structured routine mimicking school. Inch your way back to school bedtime beginning two weeks before school. With the earlier bedtime, often children will wake up earlier on their own, but some heavier sleepers will not. For those children that like to sleep in, a wake-up time beginning a couple of weeks ahead of school may be necessary.
2. Keep expectations and excitement low. Do not expect them to want to go shopping and buy a new lunch box, school clothes, and supplies. You may pick out these things for your child on your own by using their favorite color, etc.
3. Ask your child in a calm and nonjudgmental way, without an audience, if he or she has any concerns about this upcoming school year.
4. If your child has summer reading or homework, an appointed 20 min – 1 hour each day (depending on age) may need to be determined. Feeling prepared will also ease the anxiety.
5. If your child is in elementary school, take a trip to play on the school playground a couple of times before school registration.
6. Email the principal and ask to come for tour or a walk-through before school begins. Just walking through the school and familiarizing where bathrooms, cafeteria, gymnasium, school office, and other key places are located can give much comfort.
7. Include your child in coming up with a morning or evening routine chart. Decide on all the tasks which must be done before school or after school each day. Discuss this taking effect when school starts. If your child somewhat negative, add in reward such as 5-10 minutes (or whatever is age appropriate) extra technology or push back on bedtime each time one of the list is followed cooperatively. If in high school, this may need to be extra time on school night curfew or additional money to allowance.
8. Help your child stay connected with peers throughout summer. It is not too late! Arrange a couple of social outings or visits prior to the first day of school.
9. Arrange for your child and a friend to meet and walk in to school together on the first day. This helps tremendously! Make it even more fun by meeting for breakfast first.
10. If your child is going into Middle or High school, discuss the upcoming changes. Middle school requires more organization with possibly 6-8 courses and teachers. High school requires much more independence, study skills, and time management. Explore and discuss with your child some of the habits or tools that will help them succeed.