Updated: Aug 14, 2022
It’s that time of year again. Parents and children are excited (or not!) to start a new school year, but a summer’s worth of irregular daily schedules often make the transition difficult. Here are some tips for a successful start.
1. 8 is great! Sleep hygiene is important and goes hand-in-hand with your child’s ability to start back on their daily routine as well as managing their emotions during those first weeks of school. Beginning 10 days before the first day of school: Have your child start their nighttime routine within a 30 minute window of their school year desired bedtime. Set alarms within a 30 minute window of your child’s desired school morning wake up time. Even if your child has nowhere to go that day, asking them to eat breakfast at the table, read a book after dinner, or pick out their clothes for the next day will help their body get back into their sleeping and wake routine. Experts recommend reducing screen time during the day and eliminating it altogether in the hour before bedtime.
2. Routine, consistency, and structure! A healthy and appropriate daily routine is one of the most important factors in decreasing back to school anxiety. Routines and structure allow children to feel safe and secure. Consistency with routines allows parents the opportunity to decrease the likelihood of emotional outbursts and anxious reactions from the child when prompted to do daily tasks such as: completing homework, getting ready for bed, and school morning items like brushing teeth.
3. Weekly schedule! Creating a weekly schedule and having it in an area that the child can view daily will decrease anxiousness and outbursts around weekly expectations and activities. Good items to include on the weekly schedule include; child transportation changes, sporting events and afterschool activity times, changes to parent work schedules, and errands that the child will have to participate in. A visual weekly schedule alleviates any “what if“ thoughts and decreases emotional reactions to times of the child’s day that are out of their control.
4. Empathize & connect! Your child will soon be surrounded by new adults, be expected to follow different rules and expectations, while also figuring out their place in a new social setting. It is valuable to the child when parents empathize with those emotions that the child is feeling such as worry, overwhelmed, and stressed. Good quick empathetic statements from a parent can be “wow that does sound like a lot”, “ that can be pretty scary”, “this is a lot of new things going on”, “I know it feels like we’re asking a lot of you”.
5. Model & teach coping skills! Parents want to acknowledge the moments that are challenging for their child and also provide encouragement that these moments will not last forever. Asking your child what was the most enjoyable part of their day will teach them to not focus on all the negative moments. Taking a moment to calm down before starting a conversation with them can show your child appropriate calm down skills as well as normalize some of the feelings that they might be feeling. Examples of encouraging statements are: “third grade is a big year and has more tests, I can see how that can make you feel nervous, what can I help with?”, “ Going into a new school does sound scary, just remember that it’s everybody’s first day too.” “Right now I am feeling frustrated, I’m going to take five minutes to myself to calm down before we finish this conversation so that we don’t get mad at each other and say something we regret.”
6. Two weeks & we’re golden! After two weeks of routine, structure, support, your child’s emotions will begin to regulate and normalize. During those first two weeks parents need to stay on the offensive-try your best not to react to outburst, anxious irrational thoughts, and negative self-talk by your child. Parents can set firm boundaries on acceptable and unacceptable behaviors during these times. Staying on the offense and not reacting during these moments will give them less of a chance of recurring, and also teach your child that you are not the bad guy. Examples of statements during these moments include: “ I know waking up early is hard, what can we do tonight that can make your morning easier?”, “ I can see that you’re frustrated with having to do your homework today, if you would like me to help or sit with you I can, but I will not be spoken to in a rude way”.
7. Acknowledge your own emotional reactions! Whether it is kindergarten, third grade, sixth grade, freshman year, or senior year, parents often feel emotional around the beginning of the school year. The beginning of the school year can trigger parents to feel overwhelmed with the new schedules, responsibilities, and milestones their child is going through. Your child will pick up on your emotions and it is our responsibility as their parents to make sure that we take care of ourselves so that we can take care of them. Tips for parents to acknowledge and work through these emotions: stay in the moment and out of your head, talk to a close friend and release those emotions and intrusive thoughts, do some self-care such as stopping to get your favorite drink after school drop off, or putting off doing the laundry one day to go for a walk around the neighborhood with your kid.
Our therapists at Wisdom Path know that sometimes you or your child need a little help. Feel free to call for an appointment. 828-465-6544