For kids and their parents, the approach of September heralds not only a change in season, but a sudden shift to the highly-structured schedule and rhythm that we all know as “back to school.” For many kids, the long, hot days of summer are characterized by fluctuating routines: Instead of school, they enjoy camps, daycare, vacations, unstructured play and other activities that make summer an enticing time of discovery and fun. Returning to the busy, more consistent schedule of fall is a big adjustment for kids, and it can be stressful. Getting organized ahead of time can help smooth the transition and reduce stress for both kids and parents.
Here are our top tips for back to school:
Get Back on Your Sleep Schedule
The longer, relaxed days of summer often translate into later bedtimes and waking times that don’t align with the early ringing of the school bell. Research shows that sleep deprivation affects learning, memory, attention and mood, and can greatly affect academic success. Start incrementally rolling back bedtime in advance of September so that your child is well-rested and ready to learn by the first day of school.
Organize that Backpack
Avoid the frantic night-before trip to the office supply store and go shopping for those binders, pencils, and protractors ahead of time. Often teachers will provide a list of essentials to eliminate the guesswork. Encourage organization and independence by involving your child in this process in an age-appropriate way, such as asking them to pack their own backpack, prepare the list, or even purchase the supplies on a budget you set. Don’t forget to include a print-out of the class schedule and an agenda/student planner to foster those organizational skills all year long!
Make the Unfamiliar Familiar
Starting a new school can be intimidating, and anxiety can build when a child is not sure what to expect. Ask the school for permission to take a tour or “walk through” before the year begins, and give your child the opportunity to meet the teacher (if possible) and check out their new classroom and locker, as well as the library, cafeteria, and other key places. If you’ve moved to a new neighborhood, there may be other children on your block in the same grade, and setting up a carpool or walking buddy could give your kid a head start on making new friends.
Set Up Academic Supports
If you or your child’s teacher noticed any learning roadblocks last year, consider setting up support in advance of the obstacle recurring. A psycho-educational assessment can identify learning issues and exceptionalities, and provide recommendations for the academic accommodations your child may require. The beginning of the school year is also a good time to secure any needed tutoring, and to meet with your school’s guidance department to discuss resources the school can provide, such as Individual Education Plans (IEPs) or learning skills classes. Support your child at home by setting up a distraction-free homework space and by agreeing on a homework routine before the new year begins.
Open a Dialogue
The back to school season can bring up many conflicting feelings and thoughts for young people. Give your child space to share their perspective, including any worries or fears they may have about returning to school. If you notice any persistent anxiety or low mood that is causing distress, a qualified child therapist may be an important ally. September is also a good time to be thinking about sustainable routines that bolster mental health for the whole family. Amid all of the pick-ups, drop-offs, homework checks and PTA meetings, try to keep a bit of that summer rhythm in the schedule by including some time for play, fun activities, and relaxing social time for kids and parents alike.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.