As September approaches, it’s time to sharpen pencils, buy new binders, and get ready to go back to school. At this time of year, too, parents start to wonder about how to smooth the transition from summer to school for their children.
Whether your child is entering a new classroom or starting an entirely new school, here are some ways to support your child’s back-to-school adjustment:
- Ease back into structure. Has your child been staying up late, sleeping in, and eating meals irregularly during the summer? The week before school, gradually move bedtime back and wake your child closer to the time he or she will have to get up for school. Serving meals close to the school-year schedule as well will help your child’s internal clock adjust.
- Find balance. Children who have spent the summer doing increased physical activity at camp or around the neighborhood can have a difficult time adjusting to the expectation of sitting in their seats all day. Therefore, think of ways to incorporate physical exercise into the school year routine. Can you and your child walk or bike to school? This can help children to settle down more easily when they arrive. Likewise, playground or other active time after school can help children let off steam at the end of the day. In addition, leaving time for children to play, relax, or read a book for fun is important for achieving balance during the school year.
- Support homework success. As mentioned above, some children need to engage in physical activity before they can sit down and complete homework easily. Other children do better with getting homework done right away so that they can look forward to free time in the evening. In any case, establish a clear and consistent routine for homework so that your child knows what is expected. Provide a clean space free of distractions, whether it’s a desk in your child’s room or a spot at the kitchen table. Be on hand to encourage your child; however, let your child work independently. If your child regularly struggles with completing homework assignments, speak with your child’s teacher, who may be helpful in identifying the source of the problem and correcting it.
- Get involved. If your schedule allows, attendance at Parent Night or other family-centered school events is a great way to support your child and connect to his or her academic life. Your involvement sends your child a positive message about the importance of school. Introduce yourself to the teacher at the start of the school year and find out the best way (note, phone, email) to contact him or her. Let the teacher know of any major transitions that have occurred recently for your child, such as a move, a parental separation, or a sibling leaving for college.
- Be alert to signs of stress. When children are stressed, they often show rather than say how they are feeling. Changes in behavior, such as trouble falling asleep, decreased appetite, tantrums, or frequent complaints of aches and pains may indicate that your child is not feeling quite right. To get a sense of your child’s concerns, ask open-ended questions about the school day. For example, you might ask what was the most interesting or the most difficult thing your child is learning at school. Ask how things are going with friends, and whom he or she plays with at recess or sits with at lunch. If your child is still having difficulty a few weeks into the school year, you may want to speak with your child’s pediatrician or a behavioral health clinician for additional support.
Dr. Stephanie Erber joined Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in 2006 and is a clinical psychologist in the Behavioral Health department in our Cambridge practice. She treats children, adolescents, and adults, and her special areas of interest include school adjustment, anxiety and mood disorders, eating disorders, trauma, and bereavement.