The start of the school year can be a time of both excitement and anxiety for children and teens. Some children look forward to the year starting, seeing friends again, and maybe even crave the structure. Others simply dread the end of summer fun and most of all the start of structure. And then others may look ahead to the start of school with an increasing amount of anxiety. So how can you help these kiddos prepare themselves and make sure they start school off on the best foot? Here are a few tips to help ease the transition back into school with the least amount of anxiety and the most success:
- Talk Frequently: start talking about school starting early. Building up to the start rather than suddenly jumping into the school year helps a child feel more prepared emotionally. They have time to think about what makes them nervous and seek reassurance or solutions.
- Adjust Sleep Schedules: start preparing for the school year sleep schedule early. Often times kids stay up later and wake up later during the summer, leading to potentially over tired children once school starts and they have to wake up early again. Well rested children start the school year off more alert, attentive, and adjusted leading to a more successful start. Starting early also reduces the chances of protests and acting out at the beginning of the school year by giving plenty of time for that to occur in the relative freedom of summer vacation.
- Reduce Electronic Times Now: if the kids are allowed less electronic time during the school year than they are during the summer, start weaning them off early. Starting school and homework at the same time as losing the fun time they have playing video games is a recipe for disaster. Don’t simply rip the bandaid off, but ease them back into the school year electronics routine during the couple of weeks leading up to the school year. This also reduces negative associations between school and the “loss of fun.”
- Increase Reading: in order to get those brain muscles working again, increase the amount of time spent reading either together as a family or individually. This helps them use critical thinking skills that are often neglected during the summer before jumping back into school full force.
- Gather Supplies Early: buying school supplies early helps a child become aware that school is coming up and helps them feel prepared. The process can be fun and should involve them. Depending on budget let them pick out one or two personalized items that get them excited to use the supplies and return to school. Shopping early also helps reduce your stress of not being able to find the supplies you may need.
- Pick a Special Outfit: along those lines, letting them get a new, special, first day of school outfit helps them to feel good about themselves, building self-esteem. It also gives them something positive to associate with school starting again.
- Take Advantage of Meet the Teacher Opportunities: when available. Especially for those anxious children, meeting the teacher ahead of time and even seeing the classroom when possible helps to reduce the anxiety of the unknown. They are no longer walking into a strange situation, but know who will be in charge and where they will spend their day.
- Schedule Play Dates: getting them reacquainted with peers can help reduce the anxiety of starting a new school year. Reminding them of who they enjoy seeing and spending time with creates a comfort zone, even in a more unknown situation.
- Validate Feelings: no matter what a child is feeling about the upcoming school year, it is their feelings. Reassure them that you understand and that they are allowed to feel whatever it is they are feeling. Do not dismiss what they feel, instead listen to them, hear them out, tell them you understand, maybe share some times you felt that way, and lastly reassure them that they will be okay and safe in a way that shows them you take their feelings seriously.