Easing Back to School Transitions for Children, and Parents.

“As a mother I like to help my girls, who are always kicking and screaming about going back to school, to think about the new school year being a new fresh start,” said Alane Burgess, MA, LMHC, Clinic Director for MHA’s BestLife Emotional Health and Wellness Center. “Parents are also about to make the annual transition to a new school year. It’s not always easy, but there are some simple ways parents can help their kids feel their best for school.”

Large Group portrait of pre-adolescent school kids smiling in front of the school building. Back to school photo of a diverse group of children wearing backpacks and ready to go to school

Burgess pointed to suggestions found on websites for the American Psychological Association and Kids Health. To help parents, she summarized key findings and ideas below.

Adjust to a New Routine: Starting school for the first time, entering the next grade or going to a different school can be unsettling. Remind your kids that everyone (even the teachers!) feels a bit nervous about the first day of school. With a little time to adjust, this new experience will become an everyday routine.

Accentuate the Positive: If your child seems anxious, emphasize the positive things about going back to school, such as reconnecting with old friends, meeting new classmates who could become friends, and getting involved in activities like sports, music and clubs. A run to the store for some cool school supplies could do wonders.

Make Adjustments: Consider adjusting your own schedule to make the back-to-school transition smoother. It’s especially beneficial that first week for parents to be home at the end of the school day. Of course many working moms and dads don’t have that flexibility, so instead try to arrange your evenings to give your kids as much time as they need, especially during those first few days.

Ask and Listen: Ask your kids about what worries them—and then listen. Is the thought of schoolwork stressing them out? Are they afraid they won’t make new friends or get along with their teachers? Are they feeling added pressure this year to make the varsity team or get the lead role in the school play? College search can be especially stressful. Emphasize that you are always there to listen, no matter what concerns them.

“As a parent, I also make it a point to attend any back-to-school events or orientations that the school is putting on to help with that transition,” Burgess added. “Of course, it’s great when kids can attend those events, too.”

Another way parents can ease those back-to-school butterflies is by beginning the transition to a consistent school-night routine a week or two before school starts. “Returning gradually to school year structure and knowing what’s expected of them can be reassuring for children,” Burgess added. “That can be especially helpful if thoughts of a new school year have them feeling unsettled or anxious.”

Burgess offered some simple suggestions to build structure for each school day.

Get Enough Sleep: Establish a reasonable bedtime so that your kids are well rested and ready to learn in the morning.
Eat a Healthy Breakfast: Children are more alert and do better in school if they eat a good breakfast every day. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a great breakfast that’s simple to make…your kids can even make their own!

Avoid the Morning Rush: The night before, help your kids organize and set out what they need for school the next morning. Lay out clothes, make sure homework and books are in their backpacks, then place backpacks by the door ready to go.

Write Down Key Info: Help them track need-to-know details such as their locker combination, when classes and lunch start and end, their homeroom and classroom numbers, and the names of teachers and/or bus drivers.

Post the Schedule: Use a wall calendar to record due dates for assignments, test dates, dates and times for games, practices or rehearsals, and days when there is an early release or no school. Does your kid carry a phone? All of this can be managed in a calendar app that you can access, too.

“Keep in mind that every child is different and every new school year is different, so things that may once have been welcomed with excitement may now be something feared, or vice versa,” Burgess explained. “By having open communications and dialogues with their children, parents can better know what their kids are thinking and feeling. That sets up parents to acknowledge if we can help with solutions to any problems our kids might be experiencing. It also makes sense to have a plan for how we might manage those things that don’t go so well. Welcome your children’s input, involve them in the decision making process, give praise for their hard work when they complete their homework or a project, and keep some downtime open for family fun.”

Any new situation can bring on anxiety. That’s normal. But even with planning and reassurance some children may develop real physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, associated with the start of school. If you’re concerned that your child’s worries go beyond the normal back-to-school jitters, speak with your child’s doctor, teacher, or school counselor, or call MHA’s BestLife Emotional Health and Wellness Center at 1-844-MHA-WELL.

About MHA:
What We Do
MHA (Mental Health Association) helps people live their best life. We provide access to therapies for emotional health and wellness; services for substance use recovery, developmental disabilities and acquired brain injury; services for housing and residential programming, and more. With respect, integrity and compassion, MHA provides each individual served through person-driven programming to foster independence, community engagement, wellness and recovery.

Why We Matter
The youth, adults, seniors and families we serve want the same things in life as anyone: to have friends, work, go to school, have meaningful relationships, express themselves (and be heard), and be accepted in their community for who they are. With our help and resources from a caring community, people can live their potential, in their community, every day.

How We Think
Starting in the 1960s, MHA’s groundbreaking efforts and advocacy helped to transition people away from institutional living to a life in our community. This became a model for the deinstitutionalization movement. Today, our leadership continues to advance awareness of mental health conditions and needs at local, regional and national levels. We drive compassionate care for those challenged by mental health, developmental disabilities, substance use, homelessness, acquired brain injury and more.

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