Pack away the flip-flops and beachwear. Bring on the mechanical pencils and 3-ring binders. School is almost back in session, and it’s time for kids to transition to a more structured, scholarly schedule.
Heading back to school can be a stressful time for parents and kids, but planning ahead and talking through issues can help. Mollie Grow, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, offers tips to ease the transition from summer to school.
Dr. Grow’s tips for transitioning kids back to school
Incorporate check-ins with your child. Grow advises parents to have frequent conversations, or check-ins, with children. “Heading back to school can be exciting and anxiety provoking for both parents and kids,” says Grow. Recognize that butterflies and anxiety are common when children first head back to school. “Bigger transitions mean bigger unknowns,” says Grow. Starting or switching schools can increase stress for children. Talk to kids about how they’re feeling. Focus on the positives of heading back to school and leave questions open ended. Ask what they are looking forward to, or how they are feeling about heading back to school. Listen well and acknowledge their feelings. Expect children to need a little extra time, reassurance and love during the first few weeks of the transition.
Practice makes perfect. When shifting schedules, Grow says families should practice getting back into routine. Generally, drastic shifts won’t work well, says Grow. Try to make the shift in steps, starting a couple of weeks before the first day of school. Practice getting up earlier each day. Go to bed 10 minutes earlier. The transition may be hard at first, but that’s why it’s important to take little steps.
Plan ahead. Include your child in the planning process. The more a child feels involved in the plan, the more likely they are to cooperate, and the easier the transition will be for both parent and child. Start by asking questions like, what time should we leave for school in the morning to be on time, or what should you pack for lunch?
Grow says finding the appropriate amount of autonomy is also important. Allow kids to problem solve and navigate situations on their own, within reason. Kids benefit from getting the chance to think through their schedule, plan accordingly and properly manage their time. These skills will be needed in school and throughout life.
Set routines. Routines don’t stop when a child gets to the bus stop in the morning. Have after school routines as well – set aside homework time in the afternoons and prioritize family dinners to have time to talk about the day together. Before bed, lay out the next day’s outfits and pack tomorrow’s lunch. Grow advises parents to keep a highly visible calendar somewhere within their homes to help the family see their schedule. Buy fun stickers and make scheduling activities more interactive. Calendars are a great way to help children establish a sense of time and understand what is going on in their lives.
Eat well. Start every day with a healthy breakfast. Help kids put their best foot forward and make sure they have enough energy to make it through the morning, says Grow. Pack lunches with a variety of healthy options, and let kids help put together their lunches or have a say in what they eat. Kids are more likely to eat the foods they picked and packed. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises families to build meals around selections such as fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereals and bread, low-fat or non-fat dairy products and lean meats. Avoid sugary drinks, high-fat foods and limit portion sizes. Water and lowfat milk are the only drinks kids really need.
Get proper sleep. Sleep is incredibly important for children. Research suggests that consistent bedtimes matter just as much as the number of hours a child gets each night. Establishing a consistent bedtime is crucial for a child’s developing brain. Many parents may be surprised by the amount of sleep a child needs, but school-aged children need 10-11 hours total sleep. Teenagers may need help prioritizing bedtime, but should get at least 8 1/2 hours of sleep each night.
Make safety a priority. Help your children be as safe as possible while away from home. Make sure children have an emergency contact card with them at all times. Remind them to never get in a car with strangers, and make sure children know their route to get to and from school. Practice walking to the bus stop or biking or walking to school before the first day. Whether walking or biking, safety should come first. Wear proper safety gear, like a helmet, proper footwear, bright clothing and reflectors for biking.
If concerned, talk to teachers. There is nothing wrong with bringing up concerns to a teacher before the first day of school, but there needs to be balance. Grow cautions, there is a fine line between being concerned and becoming overly protective, a “helicopter parent.” If your child is very anxious or has concerns with bullying, make sure the teacher knows ahead of time and work with them to support your child. A visit to school with your child before the big first day may be a good way to help get them ready and prepared as well.
Heading back to school can be stressful, but these tips will help both parent and child feel back in the swing of things in no time.
For more information about transitioning kids back to school or to arrange an interview with Dr. Grow, please contact the public relations team at 206-987-4500 or [email protected].