By Dianne Smith
As August arrives and summer begins to wind down, it will soon be time to get ready for a new school year. Whether your summer was filled with fun activities and trips or complaints about being bored with nothing to do, children often have a hard time making the transition back to the structure and routine of school.
As with any new or potentially scary situation — like starting school for the first time, entering a new grade or starting new school, children need time to adjust. Reminding them that everyone feels a little nervous about the first day of school and that it will become an everyday routine in no time is often helpful. Helping them conquer their fears teaches them a skill they will need in the adult world, and you are their cheerleader in teaching them that they can manage fearful situations.
When your children are used to running around outside until dark each night or staying up late watching their favorite TV shows, changing to the early morning school rush can be a real shock to the system. To help with the transition, about two weeks before the first day of school, start their bedtime routine about 10 minutes earlier each night and wake them up 10 minutes earlier each morning, every day, until they are adjusted to the school schedule.
Start conversations about starting school if your child is a brand new kindergartener. For those returning talk about what the next grade will be like. Go visit the school, and if possible, identify where their classroom will be and who their teacher is. The more information they have the less anxious they will be.
Ask your children about their concerns and worries. The start of school is exciting but can also bring some anxiety, especially when it comes to the unknown. Take a few minutes to ask what they are most looking forward to during the school year, and what things may be worrying them. By giving them an opportunity to express their concerns, you can help them talk through any worries before school starts and clear up any issues that could lead to a bumpy start.
Point out the positive aspects of school. They will see old friends and meet new ones. Refresh positive memories about previous years, when they may have returned home after the first day with high spirits because they had a good time.
Talk about what the routine at home will be regarding homework, where they put their belongings when they come home and any afterschool activities or childcare. The more they know, the better they can plan and the easier it is for parents.
Get to know new teachers. There will be open houses, back-to-school night and other opportunities at the beginning of the school year, but none will give you the chance to spend some quality time getting to know your children’s teachers. Try to find a few minutes before or after school to connect with the teachers or, send an introductory email. Find out what their routine and expectations are regarding homework and how you might be able to support them in the classroom.
Have your kids pack their backpacks before they go to sleep that night and pick out the clothes they would like to wear the first day of school so that the first morning is less stressful. Talk with them about what the morning routine will look like and what you expect.
Talk with your children about bullies, peer pressure and being nice to others. If your child has been bullied in the past, this is a time to talk with them about how to handle bullies. Encourage them that if they see someone being bullied to reach out and be their friend and to let an adult know. Encourage them to make the right choices and be their own person and not just follow others.
After each day talk with your children about what they learned and what was good about their day. Often it is all too easy to focus on the negative when really there is more good out there than bad. Use these conversations to listen to your child and find out about their thoughts and feelings and to reinforce developing good life habits that will help them in their journey into adulthood. Enjoy each moment because quickly they will be on their way into the adult world and you will wonder where the time went.
Dianne Smith, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist with over 30 years experience. She has an office in Sandpoint and in Bonners Ferry and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.