It seems like summer just started and before you know it, the time has come to begin preparing for back to school. No matter whether your kiddos are 6 or 16, and you public school, private school, or home school, this can be a stressful and anxious time for both parents and children. Preparing for this transition, can help save on tension, savor the last minutes of summer, and ease into the new school year.
Depending on the age of your children, involve them in this preparation. For students of all ages this could include a “date time” with mom or dad that includes shopping for clothes and supplies and a special lunch or snack. For older students, the experience of budgeting for back to school could be a valuable activity.
Give as much choice as possible to the child within reason. Picking out the color and design of notebooks, backpacks, etc. and choices for back to school clothes (only choices that parents approve of) gives the child a sense of control in his life and signals to him you believe he is capable.
Attune to emotional states. Acknowledge your child’s excitement, fears and anxieties and encourage her to talk about them. Ignoring or minimizing them will only indicate to your child that her emotions are abnormal or wrong and does not allow for your child to learn how to regulate her emotions in a healthy way. Visit the school with your child if she is anxious about new surroundings. Talk about times in which you were anxious and how you overcame that anxiety. A small transitional object might help ease a child’s fears…such as a picture of the family or an “I believe in you note” tucked in a pocket.
Reestablish the routines needed for the school year before school starts, not the day of. Think about bedtimes, mealtimes, chores etc. that might have gone by the wayside during summer. If your child must wake up at 6:30 on school days, don’t wait until the first day of school to reinstate this. Talk about these scheduling changes and involve your child with making a schedule. For older children, put them in charge of waking themselves with an alarm. Have several days of dry runs where they get themselves up, dressed, and have breakfast by an appointed time. Remind teens to allow plenty of time for showering, hair, makeup, clothing etc. These elements are important to teens, so don’t discount them!
Count down to the first day (think advent calendar) and plan a special breakfast or something memorable on that first day. Give your child some control- buying or bringing his lunch, the outfit he wears on the first day, bus or dropping him off, or for homeschoolers which subject comes first (math or language arts) …and plan this the day before not the day of.
Remember it is normal for a child (and a parent) to be anxious about these transitions. These anxieties usually pass within the first few days or weeks with some TLC for all involved. If anxieties persist and you are unsure if as to whether this is normal or needs to be addressed on a deeper level consult your school or a mental health professional.
Some favorite books for parents that cover many dilemmas and choices are the Love and Logic series by Fay and Cline. Some informational web sites are: http://www.loveandlogic.com/