Article by: Dr. Kara Fawley, Director of Clinical and Behavioral Services, The Pathway School
The transition back to school can be challenging in the best of years, but our students have been grappling with 18 months of uncertainty, isolation, and constant changes. Here are some tips for a successful transition, even if it has been a while since they’ve been in a physical classroom.
- Talk About It: Start asking about school, what your child is looking forward to, and what they might be nervous about. Think out loud about what they can expect, or what they know about their new teacher and classes. Tell stories about your own time in school that can be encouraging or relatable. This can start to get kids into the mindset of being in school and can be an opening for discussing their anxieties or frustrations about the new year. A great time to start this process is when shopping for or gathering school supplies.
- Create Routines: While we might expect grumbles or tantrums at the onset of any school year, this year we might be confronted with outbursts, stomachaches, or separation anxiety. Predictable routines help children feel safe because they know what to expect. Implement a sleep schedule and set limits around technology for waking early. Come up with a fun way to say goodbye, so it can become part of the transition. Anxious kids might appreciate a picture of mom and dad or the family pet to bring with them or another little reminder of home, such as a small toy or fidget. This can serve as a little reminder you are still with them even when you are apart.
- Empathize: When your child is stressed, it can be tempting to try to fix the problem and alleviate their discomfort. First, acknowledge the feeling, which shows that you are listening and understand. It can also give them the language to describe their emotional state. Saying “I get it, change can be uncomfortable,” or “I’m nervous too, but we’re doing everything we can to stay safe,” can be more effective than saying, “You’re okay,” or “It’ll be fine.”
- Model Self-regulation: Children look to the trusted adults in their lives for cues about upcoming events. If you are feeling anxious about the school year, your children will know and react. Make sure to take care of yourself and your needs, lean on your supports to manage stress, and be kind to yourself if you find yourself or your child struggling in these early days.
Remember, it may take a while for you and your child to adjust to the new year, especially when a year has been as tough as this one. The transition back to school may take time and patience, but after time adults and children alike will be able to enjoy a renewed sense of freedom and progress.