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

by The Coping Counselors

As the summer ends, it’s back to school time! Sometimes this can be a simple change for parents and children, but the transition can be difficult for others. The Coping Counselors at the Center for Coping often spend a lot of time helping parents and their children ease the transition, as well as handling the frustration that comes with it. There can be a mixture of emotions that comes with the adjustment, 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 the change 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 purchasing all the supplies needed before school starts, including pencils, backpack, lunchbox, notebooks, calculator, clothes, and assignment pads. It may be helpful for you and your child (together) to compile a list of what s/he might need and then take the time to get them (together). 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 easy transition. Waiting until the last minute can be stressful, for both you and your child. You may feel more pressured, less patient, and stressed, 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!

Any time spent preparing for the upcoming year may bring out any back-to-school anxieties from your child. This will give you the opportunity to alleviate any fears s/he 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 an open door to a constructive and calm conversation. Eventually, they’ll start to talk and be thankful for having an understanding parent to help 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!

After you and your child get all the necessary materials and clothes for the year, get organized! This means getting his/her room cleaned (your child should certainly be a participant!), organizing desk supplies (together), and making sure there’s a good “homework spot” that they can consistently use for homework and studying. This should be an area that is free of distractions, clean, and quiet. Used consistently, such an area can reinforce good study/homework habits. Help your child begin writing in his/her assignment pad. They can write down homework assignments, projects, tests, reports, and anything else they may need to keep track of. You should routinely (depending on the organizational level of the child) check their assignment book to make sure they’re writing down all their homework and getting their work done. But for now, just help them get used to using the assignment book and assure them that it will help them stay ahead!

4. Be Positive!

Many children have a tendency to feel a little nervous before returning to school. Going back to school means they 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 earlier bedtimes, and focusing their mind on school so that they learn the material being taught and get good grades. This is quite a change from the days of playing with their friends, going to the beach, and pretty much doing whatever they felt like doing! Ease your child back into the right mindset, but 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. Help them to think 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 what I’ll do while you’re at school.” As much as you might be tempted to say such comments, these are what will cause your child to have some separation anxiety. Sure, you may miss them, but this means something entirely different to them than it means to you. To you, it may mean “Boy, I’m going to miss Charlie when he goes back to school after seeing him all summer!” but to Charlie, it means “Mom needs me at home and she’ll be sad if I go; I better stay home!” You want to avoid this as much as possible, and fill his/her head 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. For the weeks leading up to school, it can be a good idea to start changing your routine. Begin by re-entering regular meals into the routine. 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 that won’t get over-tired before school even starts, which could otherwise lead to fatigue, low energy, and crankiness! Start calming down their activities, in preparation for transitioning into a more structured and calm routine.

6. Plan activities for the school year

As important as it is to get your child ready for routine, homework, and early 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 whattheir 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. By getting involved in activities that they enjoy and are good at, this will undoubtedly boost their self-esteem and make them more excited for 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 in an unstructured, but supervised, environment. Try to avoid getting into routines of watching a lot of television, or playing computer or video games. Encourage outdoor play and toys that require social involvement.

8. Talk To Your Child.

As mentioned before, it is important to give your child the opportunity to discuss any anxieties they may be having about the school year starting. For example, maybe they 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 saying. After they express themselves, help them find ways to make the situation better. Help them think positively, or find possible solutions to the problem. Encourage them and assure them without making them think you’re disagreeing with their feelings. Allow them to share their anxieties with you, because it’s important for you to know what their concerns are before school starts. You can pay better attention to these issues as the school year starts, and help them through any obstacles they may be having.

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’s probably 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 exhausting days. For other parents, sending their child back to school can be sad because they genuinely enjoy spending time with them. Whatever emotion you are feeling is okay; there’s nothing wrong with it! 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 not wanting the child to return to school. This can result in 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 that would mean they have 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. As you transition your child back to school, get yourself prepared too! You’re both needing to adjust to the new school year, so do it together! If you are not a working parent, it can be a good idea to get yourself involved while your child is at school. Resume going to the gym, join a daytime class, or do anything for yourself that you didn’t have time for during the summer! Enjoy!

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