I have so many mixed emotions about returning to the school district next week. On the one hand, I will have to give up my “Lady of Leisure who Lunches” status, which is sad, because I’m SO good at it. No more “to do” lists that include “Wait for Mail Delivery” and “Obtain Cappuccino.” No more 4 hour hikes with dogs in the middle of the day. No more time to plan important wedding details: Pool Blue? Bluebird Blue? Tiffany Blue?
And yet, I always feel a fluttering excitement about going back to school, that usually begins the first time I see Target put out that delicious display of sharp pencils, perfect untouched rainbow crayons (with glitter), plasticy-smelling lunchboxes, and the holy grail of B2S shopping, a sea of new outfits! Excuse me, I just need a moment. Ahhhh.
As my tagline suggests, I have always LOVED school, so the B2S shopping experience always reminds me of those glory days of returning to school to see my friends, fresh calendar/organizer in hand, perfectly pointy pencils with untainted eraser, multi-colored pens and highlighters, ready to learn. But learning and making friends always came easy to me*, so of course I loved school. Many of the students I work with dread the return of school, and in some cases take drastic measures to avoid returning at all.
So, what can parents do to help their kids with a smooth back to school transition?
Here are some tips from the National Association of School Psychologists. They are aimed mostly at younger students, but some can be adapted to upper grades.
Before School Starts
1) Mark your calendar with important dates. Make copies of all your child’s health and emergency information for reference. Discuss any concerns you have over your child’s emotional, physical, or psychological development with your pediatrician. Your child will benefit if you can identify and begin addressing a potential issue before school starts. Schools appreciate the efforts of parents to remedy problems as soon as they are recognized.
2) Buy school supplies early. Try to fill the backpacks a week or two before school starts.
3) Reestablish the bedtime and mealtime routines at least one week before school starts. Prepare your child for this change by talking with your child about the benefits of school routines in terms of not becoming overtired or overwhelmed by school work and activities. Include pre-bedtime reading and household chores if these were suspended during the summer.
4) Turn off the TV. Encourage your child to play quiet games, do puzzles, color, or read as early morning activities instead of tv. This will help ease your child into the learning process and school routine. If possible, maintain this practice throughout the school year.
5) Visit school with your child in advance if your child is young or in a new school.
6) Designate a clear place to do homework.
Overcoming School Anxiety
1) Let your child know you care. If your child is anxious about school, send personal notes in the lunch box or book bag. Reinforce the ability to cope. Children absorb their parent’s anxiety, so model optimism and confidence for your child. Let your child know that it is natural to be a little nervous any time you start something new but that your child will be just fine once he or she becomes familiar with classmates, the teacher, and school routine.
2) Do not over react. If the first few days are a little rough, try not to over react. Young children in particular may experience separation anxiety or shyness initially, but teachers are trained to help them adjust. If you drop them off, try not to linger. Reassure them. Remain calm and positive.
3) Acknowledge anxiety over a bad experience the previous year (e.g. bullying, difficulty with academics or making friends). Contact the school to confirm that the problem has been or will be addressed. Reassure your child that you and the school are working together to prevent further issues. Reinforce your child’s ability to cope. Give your child a few strategies to manage a difficult situation on his own. Maintain open lines of communication with the school.
4) Arrange play dates or get-togethers with some of your child’s classmates before school starts and during the first weeks of school to help your child reestablish positive social relationships with peers.
5) If problems arise, you may want to contact the school to set up an appointment to meet with your child’s teacher and school psychologist. They may be able to offer support or suggest other resources. While children can display a variety of behaviors, it is generally wise not to over-interpret those behaviors. More often than not, time and a few intervention strategies will remedy the problem.
*Notable exception: Chemistry. Bleech. I hated it because I wasn’t good at it. I didn’t understand why anyone would care if an equation was balanced. I also didn’t like my teacher, for reasons beyond the obvious lack of deodorant situation. Shouldn’t he be concerned about his pH balance if he was soooo smart? Fortunately, Mr. Sweaty also believed in group test grades (what?) so I compensated by weaseling myself into a group with the future valedictorian.
This technique was also key to getting through the Tennis portion of PE. I started dating the state tennis champ and opted for being on a doubles team. Here was every game: Him: I got this ball! (whack) Me: ok! Him: I got this one too! (whack) Me: (filing nails) You got that one too? Great.