Starting to think about back to school and wondering about how to manage the transition for everyone?
Check out this post on Care.com that our therapist, Elizabeth Mann, was featured in!
Getting back into the school routine after a fun, relaxed summer can be particularly challenging for kids and parents. If you have concerns about what the school year will bring, here are some practical tips to help the transition go smoothly.
1. Think ahead: map out what the routines will have to look like in advance and create a plan for adding elements gradually a few weeks before school starts so everyone gets lots of practice on individual elements before putting them all together. Leave plenty of time for them to learn and practice so they can feel confident about mastering the routine.
2. Focus on sleep: both kids and adults function better when their sleep cycles are consistent. If you know that your child will have to get used to early mornings, begin moving up their wake-up times gradually so their bodies can adjust and keep them consistent. For example, if they wake up at 9am now and will have to wake up at 6am for school, start moving their wake-up time 30 minutes to one hour earlier each week prior to school. Make sure to adjust their bedtimes, too, to ensure that they are getting enough sleep.
3. Use visual cues and practice: especially with younger children, remembering all the steps to their routines and completing them can be challenging. Their brains aren't quite developed enough to independently go through it all. Start with telling a "story" of how the morning will go while they are still in bed. Create a visual task list with simple photos of their tasks that you go over with them. For example, have a sheet of paper (I recommend laminating it if you are able) with a photo of an outfit that shows it's time to get dressed, followed by a photo of their toothbrush/toothpaste for brushing teeth, a photo of a hairbrush, etc. for each step of their routine.
4. Make it fun: kids gain most of their motivation from doing things that are fun, so game-ify their routine while they are completing it. Make it into a treasure hunt or offer some kind of incentive for completing the routine in a certain amount of time. Try to avoid competition between children, as this can turn into fights or cutting corners and can also hurt self-esteem and relationships between children.
5. Practice calming strategies when the children are calm: Most kids get some form of anxiety before school - for some it shows up as excitement, but for many it shows up as nervousness. Excitement and nervousness feel remarkably similar in the body, so it may be hard to tell which emotion is being displayed. Practice simple calming strategies such as pretending to blow out bubbles or pretending fingers are birthday candles (these are akin to taking deep breaths or regulating breath), using sensory fidget toys, or simple kid-friendly yoga poses (YouTube is amazing for this). Always validate your child's feelings; although you may know that there is nothing to be worried about, each new school year is a completely new experience with uncharted territory. Encourage your child with lots of reassurance, closeness, and unconditional love.
About the author: Elizabeth Mann is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker in Minnesota and is the owner and lead psychotherapist of Winding Path Counseling. She has over ten years of experience working in the mental health field with a variety of ages, but much of her work has been with children and teens in intensive settings, focusing on parent-child attachment, building healthy development, neurodiversity-affirming and trauma-informed care.