Returning to School from Summer Break
Tips for Parents to Help Their Children Transition Back to the School Year Routine
The summer is over, and it is time for our kids to return to school. While most children adjust to the beginning of the school year in a month, there are certain things that parents can do to help make the adjustment easier. Interestingly, much of adapting to a new school year relates to how the previous school year ended. If the last school year ended with a great deal of stress and strain, many children will not be particularly excited about trying it again.
As a reminder, a firm and kind parenting approach will work for most kids. If you're unfamiliar with this strategy, "firm" implies that the child has rules and consequences, and "kind" is the overall supportive feeling that is used. Using this parenting style, the parent does not tie their own self-worth into how well their children do academically and/or socially.
Here are some important considerations to help your child transition back into the school year routine:
Perhaps the most important issue to focus on is sleep. Parents should plan to return to structured weekday bedtimes a week before school begins. Investing in an alarm clock for your child and adjusting your child's bedtime based on the ease with which they awaken and get out of bed in the morning may also be helpful to a child. If bedtime is 9 p.m. on school nights, but your child can't get out of bed at the required 7 a.m., try moving their bedtime up to 8 or 8:30 p.m. Continue allowing them to get more sleep until they demonstrate they can wake up and be prepared to leave for school at the necessary time. This is not a punishment but an essential correction based on their sleep needs. Did you know that the average 7th-12th-grade female student needs 30 minutes to prepare for school in the morning, while the average male student in the same grades needs 18 minutes? Hopefully, this knowledge will help parents and children avoid the morning rush and all-too-frequent conflicts surrounding being late for school.
Plan the First Week of School
It is a good idea to plan the first week of school. Have your child decide what they want to eat each day for lunch (if they take their lunch), determine what they will wear and review the process of getting on and off the bus and/or where the caregiver will drop off and pick up the student. Additionally, get the school supplies needed the week before and work with the child on how to pack and organize their backpack. Take advantage of "Meet the Teacher" or similar events and allow your child also to meet their new teacher, if possible.
Parent/Child Anxiety About School
"Who will be my new teacher?" "What if my new teacher is mean?" "Will any of my friends be in my class?" "Will I fit in?" and "Who will I sit with at lunch?" are all questions a child with anxiety may ask.
Anxiety is a normal response to stressful experiences and situations in our world. Some worry can be helpful, but too much can start to get in the way of academic functioning. All kinds of things can make kids anxious, including academic problems, family conflict, bullying or stressful life events. At the core of anxiety, you will find uncertainty.
Overprotective parenting frequently results in a lack of exposure to feared situations for the child. Therefore, anxious children and adolescents have not been facing their fears, which are likely to have further amplified and reinforced them. Encourage your child to confront fears and problem-solve. Begin conversations with anxious children by being supportive, sensible and logical. We don't want our children to be tense. Practice relaxation techniques or deep-breathing skills to clear their mind and reduce the physical tension experienced by the child.
It is important not to avoid the things that make your child anxious. Avoidance ultimately makes anxiety worse. It is possible that many of the things your child fears could happen (e.g., failing a test, accidents, illnesses). Focus on managing anxiety so it doesn't become a bigger problem. Validate their fears in a way that isn't reassuring or dismissive. Show that you understand their experience and help them to move forward to face their fears and problem-solve the best solutions.
Finally, just like there is no perfect job, there is no perfect school, and there is no perfect student. Your student will make mistakes. If last school year was difficult, your student should take a realistic look at what they could have handled better or differently. Give them a new chance to create a different strategy for beginning this new year. Encourage kids to selfadvocate. Helicopter parenting has proven to be a significant barrier in the natural development of young adults in managing stress. Coach them and role-play with them how they can address the teachers or peers about an issue they may be having.
With a parent's love, unconditional support and guidance, any child can prepare for and succeed in the upcoming school year.
Mark Cogburn, DNP, Ph.D., APRN, is a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine and the director of the Student Counseling Center at LSU Health Shreveport.