Preparing your Child for the New School Year

byRona Benhorin, Ph.D.

With the new school year right around the corner, your child may be experiencing a range of emotions, including excitement, anxiety, and possibly disappointment that summer vacation is coming to an end. Even if your child is returning to the same school, s/he may be worried about having a new teacher, being in a different building, making new friends, and/or meeting a new set of expectations. Experiencing some level of anxiety at the beginning of a new school year is common and natural. After all, even adults experience some anxiety when starting a new job or returning back to work after a long vacation.

Below are some tips that may help make your child’s transition into school, or back to school, easier for your child and your family:

1) Visit your child’s school. If possible, consider visiting your child’s school prior to the beginning of the school year. Get your child acquainted with the classroom, playground, restroom and other school facilities. If possible, you may also want to consider arranging for your child to meet his/her new teacher. Becoming familiar with the school may help ease some of your child’s fears regarding the first day of school.

2) Get your child back on schedule. Your child may find it challenging to transition from summer vacation back into a more structured routine. Adjusting to having an earlier bedtime and to rising up early in the morning is often more overwhelming if parents wait until the first day of school to get their child back on schedule. Your child’s body will also need time to adjust to the new routine. Begin preparing your child for his/her back to school schedule at least a week prior to the first day of school. Set a reasonable bedtime and have your child get up at the same time that s/he would have to get up on school days. Some parents find it helpful to gradually make their child’s bedtime earlier each night (using 15-minutes increments) until the desired bedtime is achieved. This allows the child to more gradually adjust to his/her new bedtime. Remember that if your child is not well rested, s/he may be more likely to be irritable, impatient, and inattentive during the day. A child who gets a sufficient amount of sleep is better able to cope with and adjust to daily expectations and demands.

In addition to a new bedtime, create a daily schedule that your child would be expected to follow on school days. This should include your child’s morning routine, homework time, and leisure time. Go over your child’s daily routine with him/her and, if possible, practice the new routine with your child so that s/he becomes familiar with it (e.g., getting ready in the morning, getting on the school bus, using lunch money).

Keep in mind that things often take longer than planned. Therefore allow you and your child sufficient amount of time to get ready on the first day of school.

3) Discuss expectations. Talk to your child about his/her expectations and range of emotions (e.g., excitement, disappointment, fears and worries) regarding starting school or beginning a new school year. Reassure your child that it is perfectly natural to feel a little anxious. Give your child the opportunity to ask questions and provide answers that are truthful and age appropriate. If your child has specific worries, try to find ways for you and your child to problem solve and address your child’s fears.

Make sure to also talk to your child about what would be expected of him/her this school year. If you are unsure yourself, contact the school and try to find out (e.g., your child’s new schedule, average amount of time your child will be expected to spend on homework each day) so that you can prepare your child as well as set up a daily routine that would accommodate these expectations and allow you to better support your child.

While having a conversation may be sufficient for older children, younger children may also benefit from “playing school” and taking turns playing student and teacher. This may help you gain some insight into your child’s expectations and possible fears. Pretend play is also a great tool for practicing new routines and reviewing rules. You and your child may also want to make a special book that outlines your child’s new school schedule.

If your child will be attending school for the first time, and/or generally finds it difficult to separate from you, create a good bye routine and rehearse it with your child prior to the first day of school.

4) Get your child involved in the preparation. Shopping for back to school supplies and clothes can be exciting for children. Get your child involved in that process. Go shopping together and allow him/her to pick out some outfits and/or school supplies that he/she likes. Your child can also get involved in choosing, buying, preparing and/or packing school lunches and snacks.

5) Get organized. Make sure that your child’s room is clean and organized prior to the first day of school. Also ensure that s/he has an organized, uncluttered work area (i.e., desk, dining table) to complete homework and school projects. The work area should be in a quiet place in your home, away from possible distractions.

6) Be a good role model. Set up a good example for your child by being positive, encouraging and enthusiastic about the new school year. An enthusiastic attitude is often contagious and so your child may start feeling excited as well. Your cheerful attitude can also help reassure your child and allow him/her to feel more at ease. Let your child know that you are confident in his/her ability to do well this school year, and remind him/her that you are only expecting him/her to do his/her best and that you will be there to support him/her.