Transitioning back to school is hard for many students. And transitioning back to school with COVID this year is no exception. While there is still a lot of uncertainty about what the new school year is going to look like, there are things we can do that are still in our control to optimize a smooth transition back to school and get them started off on the right foot with confidence!
Some kids are excited to go back to school. But many kids are worried. While we all want to make our kids feel better, doing so only makes things worse. Worries want comfort, certainty, and reassurance. So doing any of those things only makes the worries bigger. And, we rob our kids of opportunities to build resilience.
It is okay to validate their worries. Listen and reflect back on what you hear. And, normalize their worries – of course they feel worried! They haven’t seen anyone all summer! And have no idea who is going to be in their class! That makes sense!
Get them problem solving
But then, our job is to help them be problem solvers and manage the anxiety they are feeling. Instead of giving advice, ask them questions. So, what are you going to do? What can help? Have them plan. For instance, if they are worried about who they are going to eat with at lunch, what could they do to figure that out?
If they are asking a lot of questions, have them write the things they are wondering about on one side of a piece of paper and write “What I don’t know” at the top. Things might include (I don’t know…) who my teacher is going to be, who is going to be in my class, where my classes are, what locker I will have. On the other side of the paper write, “What I do know” at the top. Once your kids figure out what they don’t know, they can draw arrows from the don’t know column to the DO know column. With experience, they see their questions are answered. (And learn that they can figure things out for themselves!)
Find out more on how to help your kids with worries here.
Get them excited!
Start talking about the things they are looking forward to. Maybe talk about ideas on how to make the first day back special, like a special breakfast or lunch. Perhaps a family outing after school. Consider having a back-to-school party in the first few weeks of school so your child can invite friends over for some fun. Start building those relationships early!
Work with your child
The key to any success is to collaborate with your kids. Seeing you as a helpful collaborator (vs. annoying nagger) will make all the difference in the world now and in the future. Start off by getting to know how they are feeling about going back to school and how you can help. You can also ask about:
- What would you like your schedule to look like?
- How can I help you with back to school?
- What can we do to celebrate your first day?
- What can we all do to make the mornings smooth (so everyone leaves happy)?
Establish structure and automatize routines
All kids thrive on structure and predictable routines. It can be helpful the last week leading up to school to do mini dress rehearsals and see what your kids can build into things they are already doing and how you can structure the environment to make routines as automatic as possible. (For example, I put my floss right next to the toilet so when I go for my morning pee, I floss. No extra thinking needed.)
Kids do best when they explicitly understand expectations. Together, brainstorm a list of everything they are expected to do in a day. Pack a lunch in the morning? Unpack their backpack at the end of the day? Do their homework as soon as they get home?
Once you brainstorm your list, collaborate with your child to focus on ONE thing to work on.
The key to success is having kids set up the systems that will work for them. Don’t tell them what to do – what works for you might not work for them. (And then, you will always have to keep reminding them.) You can help brainstorm, but it is ultimately up to your kids to figure out how to get the job done. Have them experiment and see what works for them.
Some ideas include:
- Put their clothes in the bathroom the night before so they can get dressed as soon as they go into the bathroom.
- Do tasks by room. For example, do all the bedroom tasks first (e.g., get dressed and make bed), then kitchen tasks (e.g., eat breakfast and make lunch), and then bathroom tasks (e.g., brush teeth and hair). Minimizing the amount of effort kids have to do (e.g., by travelling back and forth between rooms) is helpful.
- Name regular routines, which could be daily like 8:00 lunch packing, or weekly like Folding (Laundry) Fridays and (Changing) Sheets Sundays.
- Get organized. Designate specific areas/zones/bins for specific things. For example, as soon as we get home, we: 1) put our keys on the shelf by the front door, 2) put our lunch kits next to the sink, and 3) put our phones on the kitchen counter.
- Update calendars as a family over dessert together every night. This includes upcoming appointments, as well as tests and assignments.
- Set a timer for reminders.
Again, pick ONE thing to focus on to build success with establishing that routine. Once completed, have them check it off daily, such as writing an X on the calendar for each day they get it done. Checking it off is very satisfying (and motivating!) for the brain and will help build momentum – especially when they see lots of X’s in a row, they don’t want to break the chain!
Once automatized, kids don’t even need to think about what they need to do (and therefore save a lot of brainpower for the most important part of their day – learning). Then you can focus on another routine.
I know you know it but I can’t stress enough: Sleep is critical to anyone’s success. With school just around the corner, it is important to start getting your child back onto a regular routine. Start moving bedtime/wake times up earlier, even if only in 10-15 minute increments. If you can, try to have a week of back-to-school sleep patterns before school starts. Establish a solid bedtime routine. Ideally, no screens 2 hours before bed. Dimmed lights, relaxed atmosphere.
Connect with school
It is important to start working on your relationship with your child’s teachers from the get-go. First, consider this question: Is there anything the teacher needs to know about your child to be successful? Don’t wait to see what will happen if you are concerned about something. Don’t test the teacher! That is not building a strong working relationship and will not help your child get the support they need. Knowledge is power and, if the teacher knows what to watch out for, they can jump in to help right away.
Give teachers a few days to get to know who your child is first. Then set up a time to get to know them and their teaching style, as well as to share information about your child. If you already know what resources and strategies are helpful, bring them in! And ask the teacher what would be helpful for them.
Remember! When you’re doing good, your kids do well too
Therefore, managing your own stress and worries is important. Figure out what you need to fill your bucket and feel supported. You and your kids will be way more effective if you do.
Enjoy the rest of summer!
While we can easily get caught up in the stress of back to school, it is important to cherish the last few days of summer. Ring it off with a bang! Connect with your kids. Have some fun. And maybe even create a tradition of saying farewell to summer and ringing in the new school year.