Back to school can be a stressful time for students and parents, alike. New routines, earlier bedtimes, homework and long bus rides can make these first few weeks of September especially challenging.
Helping children prepare can help get the start of the school year off to the right start.
1. Re-establish a routine
The long days of summer naturally lend themselves to less structure and a more relaxed schedule. However, having consistent routines will help your child to feel a sense of security and control, and can alleviate some feelings of anxiety. It is never too late to re-establish a routine with your child. Find time to sit down as a family to establish a morning routine, after school transition routine, and bedtime routine.
2. Establish healthy habits
Healthy habits go hand in hand with a healthy daily routine. The importance of a good night’s sleep, a healthy diet and a regular dose of exercise cannot be understated. When our physical needs are met, we are better able to cope with the challenges and obstacles of everyday life.
3. Limit screen time
When establishing a routine, it can also be helpful to address limits around screen time. This could include strategies such as designating areas of the house a “no-screen zone” (e.g., bedrooms, kitchen table) and placing parental locks on all devices. Remember to limit screens an hour or two before bedtime.
Getting your children involved with the preparation for the school day can help provide them with a sense of control. All family members have household responsibilities and it is never to early to start encouraging this independence. Younger children can wash fruit for their lunch or pick out their clothes the night before, while older children may be able to plan and prepare their entire school lunch and organize their school supplies.
5. Calm back to school fears
It is normal for children to feel nervous about the first few days of school. You may find that your child clings to you at drop off, begins to cry, or complains about a stomach-ache or headache. Validating what your child is feeling while reinforcing your expectations can be a powerful tool. For example you might say, “I can see how worried you are about going to school today but it is important that you go to class. I will be here when school is over and I can’t wait to hear all about your day”.
6. Celebrate the beginning of the school year
Emphasize all of the positives about starting the new school year – a chance to see old friends, meet new ones, and learn new things. Creating a positive mindset helps us to find the good in each day and focus on what makes us happy. Children pick up on their parents’ emotions, and if you express fear about the start of school your child may begin to feel as if they should be afraid too.
7. Reach out for help
While it’s normal for children to need some time to re-adjust to being back to school, if these difficulties persist or the above tips do not help it may be time to seek help. The following are signs that your child may struggling with heading back to school:
Your child’s anxiety about being separated from you does not improve over the course of a few weeks, gets worse, or lasts most of the school day
Your child begins to refuse to go to school or develops a new onset of frequent stomach aches or headaches or frequently expresses feeling sick
You notice persistent changes to their sleeping habits, appetite, or overall mood
There are sustained regressions in their development (e.g., a child who was previously toilet trained having frequent accidents)
Any time you have concerns about how your child is coping with school
A psychologist can work with both you and your child to better understand the situation, provide strategies and supports, and monitor your child for any signs of psychological distress.
If you would like to receive support for your child/teen in relation to back to school concerns, please feel to contact me at The Calgary Therapy Institute @ 403-640-7667
Marie Sutherby, Registered Psychologist