It’s that time of year again, time for kids to head back to school.
Helping your kids get off to a great start for the new school year is important for your whole family. Laura Hutchison, PsyD, LP, RPT/S, and a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan provider, offers these ideas to help you and your child with the transition from summer vacation to school.
• Talk about it. Talking about returning to school can be helpful in preparing kids for the first day of school. Ask what excites them about the grade ahead, while also making sure to address any concerns they may have.
• Read about it. Many children enjoy reading books about school as September approaches. There are a lot of great books for young kids about first days in a new class, as well as attending school for the first time.
• Start transitioning back to your family’s school year routines, including bedtime, morning and eating schedules. If your kids have gotten into the habit of staying up later during the summer, start getting them into bed 15 minutes earlier each night. This can help ease them back into the routine and help you and your kids get enough sleep and make it to school on time.
• Make a countdown. Time can be a difficult concept for children to grasp; therefore, countdowns can help reduce the daily “How many days until school starts?” question. Figure out how many days are left until the first day of school and then make a countdown. It can be as simple as marking off days on the calendar or making a countdown sticker board.
• Get prepared. Many children enjoy purchasing school supplies and a couple of new outfits before the first school day. Make shopping a fun time for the kids to get excited about going back to school. You don’t need to go overboard, just allow children to be actively involved in this important preparation step.
• Plan a back-to-school event. Be it a small party with neighborhood friends, a play date, a special family dinner or a fun outing, celebrating the end of summer and the start of another school year can be a wonderful way to recognize the transition.
• The start of the school year can be very difficult on children when it’s their very first time attending school, they’re transitioning to a new school or because the child just tends to be a little more anxious. Here are some more ideas from Dr. Hutchison to help children (and their parents) who are nervous about the first day of school:
• Schedule a school visit. Many schools are open to having children take a tour of the school or visit their new classroom. If a visit isn’t possible, check to see if photos of the school are available online. Helping the child get a feel of the location can ease some of the anxiety.
• Meet the teacher. Once you know who your child’s teachers will be for the upcoming year, schedule a time for you and your child to meet the teachers. If meeting face-to-face isn’t an option, have your child write a letter, draw a picture, send an e-mail or even Skype their teacher. Being able to start forming a relationship with the teacher can be very comforting to a nervous child.
• Set up play dates. If you know any children that will be in the same class (or school) as your child, have the classmates over or plan an outing so your child will feel a special bond with a few peers. Knowing you’re not alone in a new place usually makes it easier to feel comfortable.
It is also very important for parents to recognize their own anxieties about letting go and sending their child off to school. Children are extremely susceptible to picking up their parents’ emotions. If you start to recognize that your own worries about your child attending school are creeping in, in addition to addressing any of your concerns with your child’s teacher, also consider getting involved by volunteering your time at the school during classroom hours or for after-school activities. Discovering new ways to be a part of your child’s development can help you feel connected.
If you or your child’s anxiety about starting or returning to school starts to get in the way of having fun, getting adequate sleep or impacts eating habits, you may want to seek professional help from a qualified child psychologist in order to help you and/or your child address these concerns before they make a lasting impact.
Based in Farmington Hills, Michigan, Laura Hutchison, PsyD, LP, RPT/S, is a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan practicing therapist. For more information and tips on helping your children prepare to head back to school, please visit AHealthierMichigan.org.