It’s that time of year- back to school! You can always tell when the stores and commercials are filled with advertisements for lunch boxes, backpacks, and school supplies. Going back to school can be met with both worry and excitement from students AND parents. Below are some helpful tips:
· At least one week before school starts, adjust wake times to be consistent with school. This is particularly important for older students whose summer wake time is far later than for school.
· Find a place where all school items will be housed. For example, is there a crate by the backdoor where your child can put her backpack, gym bag, and violin case so she knows where to find it each morning?
· Do a trial run of what a typical school morning looks like. This is important for both you and your child to figure out how much time is needed. If your child walks to the bus stop, practice doing that. If your teenager is driving to school, practice the route.
· Display a monthly calendar that lists various events. If you have younger students, you’ll most likely make note of things like Back to School Night or PTA meetings. If you have older students, coach them to add important events to the calendar like games, practices, etc. As students get older it’s also important to coach them to consult the family calendar when there are events that might mean they need to manage their homework load. For example, your 10th grader has a chemistry test on Thursday but your family is celebrating Grandma’s 80th on Wednesday night. That is an important lesson for your student to learn he’ll need to do more studying earlier in the week and not rely solely on the night before.
· For younger children who might experience separation anxiety, talk ahead of time with the classroom teacher. Most of the time the initial separation worries can be quickly solved if the student has a morning routine when she walks into the classroom. If there is a stuffed animal or other soothing object (photo, book, etc.) be sure to let the teacher know.
· Do a practice run. Many schools, particularly elementary schools, give students the opportunity to meet their teachers and see their rooms ahead of time. Make sure to include other areas of interest as well. When the bus drops off your child where does he go? If you pick up your child, where should she meet you? What does the art room, library, and gym look like?
· For older students, accompanying them on a tour may be the last thing they want but they might have some worries if new to their school. If their locker has a combination lock, practice using one at home. If there are opportunities to get involved before school starts, encourage that. Often high school sports practices and even some drama productions start weeks ahead of time. For older students, it’s more about connection.
When to Worry
· Whether it’s starting school or a new job, it can take a while to adjust. Help model patience for your child. There will be good days and bad days. When phone calls home or tearful mornings become the norm rather than the exception, it might be time to seek additional support.
· If you don’t hear your child bring up other kids in their class, probe a little further by asking: “tell me what lunch looks like” or “who do you sit beside in art class?” It’s important for students to find peer connections.
Where to Go for Help
· Start with the source- your child. You might say, “Each year you seem excited for school and it’s normal to feel nervous but this year I actually observe you feeling scared. Tell me more about that.”
· Consult with your child’s teacher, especially if your child has one primary teacher. You are the expert on your child but the teacher is the expert on kindergartners and might reaffirm that your child’s behavior is totally normal and developmentally appropriate.
· Collaborate with your child’s school counselor or outside mental health counselor if there are underlying social-emotional concerns.
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