Top Tips for Back to School

Now that summer’s almost over, it’s time to close down the lemonade stands and dust off the old backpacks. Twenty percent of American families move to a new home each year, – half of them during the summer. Add to this the number of kids starting school for the first time or who are graduating to their next school, and about a third of all children will be going to a new school.

The only thing constant in life is change. New school or not, this is an excellent time to provide kids with social and emotional tools to do their best in the face of life’s inevitable transitions:

1.  First, ask how your child is feeling. Some parents make the mistake of either filling their child with their own fears, or telling them not to be scared about the first day. First, simply listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings. If they appear or are acting upset, suggest that “Lots of children feel sad or scared. Are you feeling something like that?”

2.  Now reassure. Once the feelings are on the table and normalized, your child can more easily hear your words of encouragement and reassurance that everything’s going to be okay.

3.  Help them view the change as an opportunity. Even though it’s normal to have uncomfortable feelings of anticipation, the butterflies in their tummies can also playfully be viewed as “excitement” instead of just anxiety.

4.  Program positive thinking. As much as possible, scout out the school, teacher or classmates ahead of time so your child can mentally rehearse what things will be like. Have them close their eyes at bedtime and imagine how their experience will be fun and positive.

5.  Re-establish routines. Providing a sense of security gives children a firm foundation for tackling the unknown. Keep things loving and positive, but with a return to the predictable routine. Sleep is essential to reducing fears and irritability. Spend a few days before the first day of school getting your child back on the new sleep schedule. 

6.  Create a ritual of planning. Create a checklist of things to do ahead of time, including purchases, and make it a fun adventure around decision-making. You can also avoid last-minute panic by packing the backpack and laying out the first day’s “special” clothes the night before.

7.  Talk about your own experiences around transitions. It’s helpful for parents to teach by example. Share not only our childhood triumphs, but also times that, even as an adult, you overcame the butterflies and are happy you made a change.

8.  Coach them to reach out. Children often wait for other kids to initiate contact with them rather than making the first move themselves. Encourage them to smile, say “Hi” to those they know, and reach out and introduce themselves to new kids.

9.   Deal with your own feelings. Facing and constructively expressing your own feelings about your child’s transition provides them with a great model for letting go, and also helps to clear some family tension that could otherwise affect them adversely.

10.  Celebrate the day! How about a special healthy breakfast and end of the day celebration for their accomplishment? Give yourself a pat on the back as well!

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