Helping your child transition back to school

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For many families the new school year arrives with emotions ranging from excitement to anxiety. 

In my experience, three major stressors can affect the summer-to-school transition: sleep, preparation and communication. Here are some tips to manage them. 

Sleep: No one copes well tired. A well-rested child best handles transitioning from summer frolic to structured school day. Simply getting up in the morning may be the toughest change. Because an established routine provides children with a sense of stability and safety, I suggest shifting from summer to school hours about two weeks before classes begin. Starting two weeks before the first day of school, have your children go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night. This way their minds and bodies will gradually get used to a new schedule, and you will avoid “morning shock” when school starts. Remember that routines help children feel comfortable, and creating a solid morning routine will make the first days of school go smoother.

Prepare: School worries are common. For children, the most common fears relate to not knowing what is about to happen and where things are located at school. If your child is anxious about the start of school, visit before classes start. This is a great way to alleviate nervousness. Visit the classroom and key places such as the bathroom, gym, playground and cafeteria. Knowing where everything is located makes children feel more confident. Also, most teachers are setting up their classrooms in the days before school starts. During this time, teachers are happy to visit with students. For example, at JCDSRI we welcome visits from our students before school officially begins. Contact your child’s teacher and ask to visit the classroom to learn a bit about its layout and routines. And if your school hosts an open house or back-to-school night, be sure to attend with your child(ren).          

Communicate: As a teacher (and parent), I know communication between teachers and parents is crucial. Meeting with or speaking with a teacher early on is an excellent way to calm fears. Teachers often welcome phone calls or e-mails. These are great opportunities to get to know each other before the year begins. Lots of schools offer home visits, which help teachers see children in their home settings. At JCDSRI, we arrange home visits in every grade, which is a great way to get to know a child in a more relaxed environment. When you chat with a teacher, share your child’s interests, challenges and skills. And communicating with your child’s teacher on a regular basis during the school year is an essential part of a successful school experience.

One final tip for parents: Employ strategies to help you relax. Children pick up the anxiety of stressed-out parents. Keeping your anxiety in check will help your child stay calm on the first day of school and throughout the school year. 

KAREN WARGO is a first-grade teacher at Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island. She previously taught first grade for eight years at Paul Cuffee School.