By Rebekah Hall / U of A System Division of Agriculture
As families head into the final weeks of summer vacation, parents can help ease the transition into the school year by getting children back into their routines ahead of time. For parents whose children are starting at a new school, it’s also important to listen to their concerns and take advantage of school district opportunities to meet teachers or walk through class schedules.
Brittney Schrick, extension associate professor and family life specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said parents shouldn’t wait until the night before school starts to get back into weeknight and morning routines.
“Trying to implement everything all at once tends to lead to some conflict,” Schrick said. “Especially for younger kids, they don’t do well just changing their routine all of a sudden, and that’s what it feels like to them. They don’t necessarily remember what it felt like during the school year.”
Schrick said if parents start setting these routines a week or so in advance, it gives the family “some wiggle room to get it right,” without the pressure of school starting the next day.
“Expecting things to just click right back into place can be a common thing for parents,” Schrick said. “They’re underestimating the difficulty.”
Take time to assess what routines a family needs to get back into and work backward from the end goal, Schrick said.
“If we want the kids to be in bed at this time, we have to have baths at this time and eat supper at this time,” she said. “Keep in mind what you want to get to and give yourself some time to actually get back to that.”
Along with getting back in the swing of school routines, managing children’s extracurricular activities can be stressful for families, especially those with multiple children. Schrick said she suggests keeping a shared calendar so all family members and caregivers can access the schedule, and to avoid overbooking.
“The more kids you have, everything gets exponentially more difficult,” Schrick said. “Don’t book more things than you have drivers or hours in the day. Especially for younger kids, make sure that they don’t have too many things to do. They’re going to be tired from school.”
Schrick said children of all ages should be given enough downtime to rest, work on homework, socialize with friends and participate in other commitments a family may have.
“It’s not overstepping as a parent to say, ‘I don’t think we have time for that,’ just because their kid wants to do something,” Schrick said.
For children starting at a new school this fall — whether because of moving schools or aging into junior high or high school — it’s natural to feel some nerves about the transition, Schrick said.
“Starting a new school is anxiety-inducing,” she said. “Your kid might be a little more worried about their first day of school outfit or, if they’re getting a locker for the first time, they may want to make sure they have all the cool stuff for it. They’ll be more worried about that than they might have been in the past.”
Schrick said children may also complain of some physical symptoms of anxiety, such as not feeling hungry. Especially if the child seems very worried about going to school — if they’re saying they don’t want to go, or they’re scared, or they don’t seem like themselves — Schrick said to “try to take as many opportunities as you can to help them prepare.”
Go to “Meet the Teacher” night. For elementary-aged children, putting a face to their new teacher’s name can help ease first-day worries. This is also often how children find out which friends may be in their new class, and they learn where their classroom is, all of which can “help them go in with a little bit more confidence,” Schrick said.
Walk through their class schedule. Especially for children transitioning to middle or high school, this is critical for setting them up for success. “If there’s an opportunity for a kid to go walk their schedule at their new school, take that opportunity if you can,” Schrick said. “That’s a really important way for a kid to prepare.”
“Take advantage of those school district opportunities for kids to familiarize themselves with their environment as much as possible,” Schrick said. “It helps kids a lot to have that kind of experience.”
It’s also important for parents to take time to listen to their children’s concerns and not gloss over them by trying to fix the problem.
“Generally, parents want to fix stuff,” Schrick said. “They think they’re alleviating their child’s fear by saying, ‘You’re going to be great!’ You do want to support your child, but a lot of times, all your kid wants is to be heard. Really hearing what they’re worried about, rather than jumping in and trying to fix it, is really important.”
Schrick said it can be helpful to ask a child whether they want words of advice or to just vent about their anxieties. It can also help to ask if there’s anything specific — within reason — that may help them feel better prepared.
“Sometimes it’s about doing that one little thing that can help boost their confidence or alleviate their anxiety,” Schrick said. “If it’s something that’s within your resources to do and it’s not a crazy request — they want the cool folder, or they want a big kid backpack this year, or they don’t want to wear a hair bow anymore — really listen to what your kid wants, needs, or thinks they need, because it might not be what the parent thinks.”