Many of us are still on “summer mode.” After all, the sunshine and long days signal to our brains that we still have lots of time left for carefree, easy living. Pool days take priority over planning. However, the reality is that school will be starting soon for many kids and teens. How do we ease this transition and make it as smooth as possible? Keep on reading for some practical tips for helping kids get back into the school year!
Acknowledge first day jitters
Feeling worried about the first day of school- whether you’re eight or eighteen- is completely normal. Even if a child has attended the school previously, they might still feel nervous about all of the “newness” that comes with a brand new school year. New teacher(s), new classmates, new subjects- it’s a lot for anyone to handle!
Try these strategies for checking in with your child about first day jitters:
1. Ask what positives AND negatives there were about the previous year. Check in with them about things they might be nervous about. Some might be worried that the new year won’t be “as good” as the previous one. Encourage them to feel ALL their feelings.
2. Try to normalize emotions they may be experiencing about the first day. If your child does bring up feeling anxious or stressed, these are some great resources for validating their feelings and problem-solving what might be causing these feelings: -For starting kindergarten: The Night Before Kindergarten, by Natasha Wing -For a new school: First Day Jitters, by Julie Danneberg -For beginning middle school: A Smart Girl’s Guide to Starting Middle School, by Julie Williams Montalbano
3. If possible, do a “test drive.” For younger kids, first day jitters are often based off off of the uncertainty that comes with a new school year, especially related to being away from home and familiar faces. Drive by their school building or show them pictures of their teacher; anything that acquaints them to their new environment can help. Older children may have more concerns with the social and/or academic parts of school. It can be helpful to set up a play date with a friend from the previous school year, so as to get a head start on positive relationships. Talk with your child about what is worrisome about the academic part of school, and remind them that learning is a process that doesn’t always happen overnight!
Begin some type of routine
Routines and structure are key for kids. However, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the specific details of times/days/rules, before actually implementing anything. It might be helpful to think “big picture” when devising a routine for your elementary school child or high schooler. What’s the overall goal in implementing a routine? If it’s to “get enough sleep” or “encourage more reading,” then this might be most helpful to remember, instead of becoming overwhelmed about the details.
Here are some tips for incorporating healthy habits:
1. Encourage sleep hygiene with kids and teens 1-2 weeks before school starts. This can look like anything from establishing a more structured routine before bed to pushing bedtime back 15 minutes at a time. We all struggle with adjusting to change from time to time, so be firm with your kids (and yourself!) and understand this is a process.
2. Set up scheduling during the day. Summer is meant for fun and relaxation, but structure doesn’t have to be excluded from this! Maybe you start to implement a half hour of reading a day. Younger kids might even benefit from a “practice run” of the first day of school. The next time you arrive home from somewhere, talk through what the after school routine will be like (how long for snack/homework/play), as well as expectations.
3. Discuss rules for screen time now, before school starts. How often do you want them to be asking for their phone or tablet? They might have had more screen time during the summer, with more down time, but you may want them to follow different rules during the school year. Tell them this!
The school years are a marathon, not a sprint. Try to remember this as you start the new schedule and routine. Much of the work will be done in the day-to-day communication of things, and not overnight. Even the little things (like fifteen minutes alone with your child at bedtime) make a big impact over the years. Asking kids and teens open-ended questions, such as “What were some things that made you laugh today?” instead of “How was your day?” can foster connection and grow relationships as the years pass.
Try using open-ended questions like these:
-What made you feel proud of yourself today?
-If you could change anything about today, what would you change?
-Who is someone that helped you today? -Is there anything that confused you about today?
-What is something coming up that you are excited about?
-How can we make tomorrow a better day?
Above all else- set realistic expectations for everyone (including yourself!) and aim for progress, not perfection! Kids and teens (like all of us) are not immune to failure. School is a place to learn, succeed, problem-solve…and experience setbacks. When children are given a home environment where these things are encouraged, they are better prepared for the real world and all it has to offer. And a little organization and communication before the school year starts can help us all keep our cool in the heat of back-to-school.
Content provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only. Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional recommendations, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek care from a mental health professional or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition. Please contact one of our skilled and trained mental health providers at MWR Counseling at (319) 693-5694 if you believe you would benefit from receiving professional mental health care. If you think you are in a mental health crisis, please call the Foundation 2 Crisis Line at 1 (800) 332-4224; if you are experiencing an emergency, please dial 911.