Parenting Practices: Back to School: How to Support Our Kids

By Dr. Jaime Marrus

I thought it would only be appropriate for this month’s installment of the Parenting Practices series to highlight strategies to support our kids as they transition to a new school year.  The end of summer brings about many feelings in all of us.   Especially during the last few weeks of August, I personally start to feel a push-pull sense of ambivalence… The measured excitement of waiting for some new things (e.g., schedule) to begin, combined with the longing for continued summer vacation and relaxing vibes.

It is natural for children to feel similarly, with the potential added stress (depending on how your child responds to transitions) of thinking about new teachers, new routines, new classmates, new classrooms, and maybe even a new school.  They may worry about having friends in their class, getting a lot of homework, higher expectations of a new grade, and whether or not their teacher will feel like a good fit for them. 

Below is a list of ways to support children through the August to September (and October…) transition, with ideas for both informal and formal supports.

1. Establish a healthy routine prior to the first day/week of school.

This may seem tough because we all want to squeeze the last bit of summer out of August by staying out all day in the nice weather, seeing family and friends more often than you might be able to during the school year, and naturally, letting our children stay up later and wake up whenever they want.  It is important to begin reestablishing routines at least one week before the start of school.  This includes regular bedtimes and wake-ups (that are as close to a “school year” routines as possible), healthy meals, and likely more limited screen time than is the case during the summer.

2. Attune to and validate your child’s emotions.

As discussed above, emotions may run high in anticipation of the transition from summer to school.  Let your child know that however he/she feels is “okay.”  Some validating statements include:  “I understand you are a little nervous about meeting your new teacher.”  “I remember feeling worried about the beginning of the year, too.” “I know you’re wondering which of your friends will be in your class again this year.”

3. Prepare for and review the logistics.

Some children may feel stressed about the transition because it is difficult for them to picture or get a sense of what the changes may be like.  If your child is going to a new school, it is often helpful (if possible) to take your child on a tour before the first day.  Sometimes teachers may even be open to saying a quick “hello” if they are available- reach out to them!  If getting inside the school is not possible, even driving by and walking around the outside can go a long way in easing your child’s nerves.  Show him/her where he will arrive (and how- by bus? Will you be dropping off?) and where he/she can expect to go at the end of the day.  You can also check out the school’s website for pictures and information.  For some children, creating a social story (to be read on their own, and/or with you) including short sentences and visuals about the new routine is very helpful.   It’s fun to include pictures of the child outside the school building or with his/her backpack and school supplies.  You can also include a “countdown calendar” to the first day, and cross of each day that goes by. 

4. Do your best to ensure carryover from one provider or therapist to the next (if applicable).

If your child will be transitioning between therapists, think about reaching out to your child’s previous provider (e.g., speech therapist, occupational therapist, etc.) to ask if they can think of two or three “tips” to pass on to the next therapist about working with your child.  (This is also an idea to keep in your back pocket and ask for prior to the end of the school year next June).

5. Reach out to teachers and providers regarding your child’s IEP.

For children receiving supports at school via their IEP, it is a good idea to call and/or send an e-mail to the teachers and support staff to ensure your child’s services will be provided as mandated.  Do not hesitate to follow-up on this throughout the first few weeks of school.  It is very helpful to let your child’s team know that you are interested in connecting and collaborating with them.

Best wishes to you and your children for a smooth and successful start to the new school year!

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