Preparing for ‘Back To School’: A ‘Ten-Tip’ Special

By The Coping Counselors at the Center for Coping

As the summer ends, you and your kids may be getting ready to switch gears and prepare for them to go back to school. Sometimes it’s a simple change, but the transition can be difficult for others. In working with children and adolescents, we often spend a lot of time with parents and their children to help ease the transition, as well as the frustration that comes with it. There may be many different emotions that come with preparing for the return to school, and unless properly dealt with at home, this can make the transition that much harder. Here is a list of ten tips that can hopefully make your child’s return to school just a little bit easier and smoother!

1. Be Prepared

More times than not, being prepared can physically and psychologically help with the change from summer to school. Being prepared means getting all the physical supplies needed before school starts, including pencils, backpack, lunchbox, notebooks, computers, clothes, and assignment pads. It may be helpful for you and your child (together) to compile a list of what might be needed and then work together to get them ready. It can be most helpful to do this in the weeks leading up to school, rather than wait until the last minute. By spending time preparing for school, you are also easing your child into the mindset that will be necessary for an easier transition. Waiting until the last minute can be stressful, for both you and your child. You may feel more pressured, less patient, and your child will feel this too, adding to their own anxieties about the transition. So be calm, and be prepared!

2. Get Back Into the Mindset

As you prepare to get all the necessary items that will be needed for the upcoming year, the time spent together may bring out any back-to-school anxieties in your child. This will give you the opportunity to alleviate any fears they may be having that could potentially make the transition difficult. Pay attention – if your child seems nervous or unusually quiet, try to engage them in light conversation about their feelings. Don’t grill them or force them to talk, but give them the open door to an understanding and calm conversation. Eventually, they’ll start to talk and be thankful for an understanding parent who can help to relieve their worries. It can also be a good idea to use this “preparation” time to help your child get back into the school mindset. By simply talking about school (most importantly, the positive aspects), you will be helping them get back in the frame of mind that will help them be ready, and perhaps even excited, about returning to school. Be sure to bring up points that excite them and make them feel good about themselves, rather than those that cause them to feel nervous.

3. Get Organized

Getting organized can also reduce the stress of preparing for the return to school. This means cleaning their room, organizing desk supplies (together), and making sure there’s a good “homework spot” that they can consistently use for work they bring home as well as studying. This spot should be a quiet, clean area that is free of distractions. Used consistently, such an area can reinforce good study/homework habits. Help your child determine how they will write notes to help them to be organized and prepared. Depending on the age of your child, you may want to routinely check their work to make sure they’re writing down all their homework and getting it all done. But for now, just help them get used to being organized and assure them that it will only help them.

4. Be Positive

Many children have a tendency to feel a little nervous before returning to school. To them, going back to school may mean a return to the pressure of fitting in and being accepted by their peers, changing their routine from mostly playtime to the more structured routine of homework and early bedtimes, and focusing their minds on school so that they learn the material being taught that year in order to get good grades. This is quite a change from the days of playing with their friends, playing video games, going to the playground, and pretty much doing whatever they felt like doing! Ease your child back into the right mindset in a positive way. Remind them of why they like to go to school, and discuss all the good things that happened the year before. Assure them that this year is going to be even better than the year before, and help them find things to look forward to. Avoid any comments such as “Mommy’s going to miss you when you go back to school” or “I don’t know what I’ll do while you’re at school”. As much as you might be tempted to say such things, these may cause your child to have some separation anxiety. You want to avoid this as much as possible, and fill their heads with only positive thoughts!

5. Start Changing Their Routine

Summertime can be three months of eating at odd times, staying up late, sleeping in, and doing whatever you feel like doing! Returning back to school, then, can be a big change for both you and your child. Preparing for back to school should probably involve changing some routines. For example, resume having regular mealtimes. Your child should be on a healthy eating schedule before school starts, which can have positive effects on concentration, learning, and energy. In addition, it can be beneficial to return to a regular bedtime and waking-up routine, so that their bodies get used to this when school starts. It will be important to have enough sleep so they won’t get over-tired before school even starts, which could otherwise lead to fatigue, low energy, and crankiness! Start modifying their activities in preparation for a more structured and calm school-oriented routine.

6. Plan Activities For The School Year

As important as it is to get your child ready for routines, homework, and earlier bedtimes, it’s just as important to help them get excited about the year to come. (Most likely, talking about organization and homework is not going to accomplish this!) Start discussing some possible activities they may be interested in doing. Give them the opportunity to share their ideas and see what they’re interested in. Be ready with some ideas if they’re having trouble, based on what their interests and talents are. Some parents mistakenly try to force certain activities on them, and they feel they have to do them in order to please them. Read their signals, and be aware of what they like to do. Their getting involved in activities that they enjoy and are good at will undoubtedly boost their self-esteem and make them more excited about the year to come. Some ideas for activities include sports (baseball/softball, basketball, soccer/field hockey), karate, acting class, cooking classes (for kids), and art classes. It may also be a good idea to find out what other kids are getting involved with so that your child has the opportunity to join their friends in after-school activities rather than feeling isolated.

7. Don’t Plan TOO Much

Some parents make the mistake of adding too much structure into the routine. Remember that kids need to be kids, and too much structure can cause them to feel pressure and anxiety. Allow them time just to play and be imaginative. Too many planned activities can take away from this. Give them time to play with other kids. Try to avoid getting into routines of watching a lot of television or playing computer or video games. Encourage outdoor play and toys and games that require social involvement.

8. Talk To Your Child

As mentioned before, it’s important to give your child the opportunity to discuss any anxieties they may be having about the school year starting. They may have had difficulties with other kids last year, or maybe they’re nervous about starting a harder year. Let them talk about how they feel without criticizing them. Show them you understand by listening intently and discussing what they’re feeling. After they express themselves, help them find ways to make the situation better. Help them think positively and try to find possible solutions to any of their concerns. Encourage them and assure them without making them think you’re disagreeing with their feelings.

9. Take a Ride

On a nice day, take a ride to the school that your child attends. Walk around the grounds and the area to help them re-acquaint themselves with school. It may have been a few months since they’ve been there, and just being around it again can remind them of being back at school. Help them feel comfortable with school again by just being exposed to the building, the playground, and any other areas that may be accessible. Then just take a walk together and enjoy the day!

10. Get YOURSELF Prepared

Some parents find that sending their child back to school gives them a sense of relief. The summer months can mean constant attention, being on-the-go frequently, and plenty of exhaustion! For other parents, though, sending their child back to school can be sad because they enjoyed spending extra time with them. Whatever emotions you are feeling are okay! However, what’s especially important is that you do not reveal any negative emotions or anxieties to your child. Preparing to go back to school is now about them, and it’s important that you be positive for their sake. Remember that children can sense anxieties from parents, especially if that anxiety includes the parent really is unhappy about the child returning to school. This could lead to more difficulty getting your child to school each day, a greater dislike for school, increased nervousness about going to school, and many more visits to the nurse for stomachaches and other “sick” symptoms in order to get sent home. So…try to stay positive about your child going back to school and then deal with your own emotions with it. If you are not a working parent, it can be a good idea to get yourself involved in other activities while your child is at school. Go to the gym, join a daytime class, or do something for yourself that you didn’t have time for during the summer! Enjoy!

Back to school is a normal part of a child’s… and a parent’s… life. As with so many things, preparation smooths the path. If you encounter any anxiety-related difficulties along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for support and coping strategies.

Congratulations on getting ready for another school year, and another step in the life of your child.

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