As summer winds down, your child is probably thinking about the new school year ahead, and they may be feeling a mixture of emotions.
It is important to initiate conversations with your child about going back to school: “What are you looking forward to? What makes you feel excited? What might be hard? What will probably go okay?” This is an opportunity to explore with your child how they are feeling, help them focus on the positives, focus on their strengths, and help get them excited for a new school year. If it has been a while since they’ve had a playdate with a school friend, connect with the friend’s parents to plan a little get together for the kids. Put a date on the calendar for some back-to-school shopping. Use books as a tool to talk about school and get your child excited about going back. Some of our favorite books are The Colour Monster Goes to School by Anna Llenas and The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson.
What if your child feels nervous?
As you start talking to your child about going back to school - what they are excited about, what they are looking forward to - you might find that they are feeling a bit nervous. Encourage open communication about their fears and problem-solve with them as they share their worries with you. It’s common for children to be worried about a new school year. One useful tool to help support a child who is feeling nervous is to connect with the school and ask about coming to take pictures of their new classroom, the door they will use to enter the school, the playground, their new teacher, and any other important places in the school. This helps to familiarize them with the unknown. This can be useful for a child who is changing schools or a child who is going back to the same school but is unsure about changing rooms and teachers. Again, using books can help relieve their anxiety, remind them that you are there to support them, and create opportunities for conversation. Some of our favorite books to read with kids who are feeling anxious about going back to school are The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and The Invisible String by Patrice Karst.
Once you’ve had a chance to connect with your child about how they are feeling, it’s time to work on a back-to-school plan. To help create a smooth start to the school year, here are our top five tips for success:
1. Create a routine. The alarm goes off, you check your phone, get out of bed, and wander toward the smell of brewing coffee. You know what the rest of your morning will look like: Taking a shower, getting dressed, commuting to work or heading downstairs to the home office. We function best when we have a solid routine, and it becomes your job as a parent or caregiver to help your child find their own morning routine. A summer routine often looks very different from a back-to-school routine, so we recommend getting a jump start before school begins.
Here’s how you can involve your child in the planning to help promote collaboration and independence:
If you need help getting started, check out our free Morning Routine download on our website!
2. Just 15 minutes a day. Going back to school can be stressful for you and your child, so it will be important to find those small, purposeful moments of connection. Think about three points in the day that you want to purposefully connect with your child and plan a couple of minutes to create a ritual during that moment. It can be a morning cuddle, a good-bye ritual on the way out the door, highs and lows together at dinner, or a bedtime story at the end of the day. By the end of the day, you and your child will have spent at least 15 minutes in a purposeful connection that helps to build your relationship, reduce anxiety, and increase happiness.
3. ‘Me Time.’ After school can feel like a chaotic time. Everyone is flying through the front door, backpacks are being thrown around, you’re trying to remember what you planned for dinner... This is the moment we recommend starting some ‘Me Time’ for everyone. It doesn’t have to be long, just 20 to 30 minutes. This is a time for everyone to decompress, let go of the stresses from the day, and regulate their body and brain. Have designated areas of the house for each member of the family, create a choice chart of activities or have a ‘Me Time’ bin of quiet activities they can choose from. Have a bin of small snacks available, as food can be very regulating and nurturing. Set a timer to let everyone know that ‘Me Time’ is starting. After ‘Me Time’ is over, everyone should feel calmer and ready to spend time together as a family.
4. Be proactive.
Set yourself up for success in supporting your child by getting small tasks out of the way before the morning rush begins:
Small proactive steps can reduce morning stress and start the day off on a positive note.
5. Give it time. Transitioning to the new school year can be fun, but full of changes. And change can be hard. Pick the tips that will work for you and your child. Start small with achievable routines and habits you can sustain. Whenever you start new routines, it may feel like it isn’t working, but give it time. Children are learning a lot of new skills during this time, so you need to support their growth by having realistic expectations and assisting them when they need it. After a couple of weeks, new habits will become second nature, and routines will be easier to follow.
Taking care of you
Supporting your child in going back to school can be taxing on you, too. Shifting from a summer to a fall routine is hard; along with supporting those big feelings your child might have, you might be feeling some stress. Make sure you are taking care of yourself, checking in with friends or family members to have your own emotional needs met, and remember, a rested parent is the best kind of parent! As you create a back-to-school schedule, it is important to ensure that you are creating time for yourself. Also, if you are finding that your child is struggling more than you would expect in this back-to-school transition, don’t be afraid to reach out to your pediatrician, family doctor, or a psychologist or therapist. Sometimes having those extra tips and tricks can make the whole experience more successful and less stressful for you and your child.
Ashlee and Lisa are child psychologists who created KidsConnect Psychology as a place for children and families to access tools, supports, and therapy. Visit kidsconnectpsychology.com for digital downloads, parenting tool kits, information about parent counselling, school consultations, daycare consultations, and more! Follow on Facebook and Instagram.
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