BACK-TO-SCHOOL TIPS FOR TRANSITIONING
BACK-TO-SCHOOL TIPS FOR TRANSITIONING
By Anne Lawton | MA, LPC, REGISTERED PLAY THERAPIST
For most children and parents, the first week of August means it is time to go to bed earlier, increase conversations about school beginning, and buy new school supplies. Some years this transition from summer days to the school year routine may move smoothly. In other years, this transition can be challenging. When a child transfers to a new school, extra steps can be taken to be proactive in helping your child adapt to the new school as much as possible.
Helping your child to be able to talk about how they feel is a great first step. In their most recent book, Are My Kids on Track?, Goff, Thomas, and Trevathan discuss the importance of helping your child develop an emotional vocabulary. This is along the lines of how a kindergarten teacher displays the letters of the alphabet around the classroom in order to help children learn their alphabet, since it is a building block to reading. In a similar way, it is helpful for parents to aid children in developing an emotional vocabulary.
For younger children, four main feeling words are helpful for them to be able to identify in themselves—happy, sad, mad, and nervous. As a child grows older, additional descriptive emotional words are helpful, such as ecstatic, bored, overwhelmed, confused, etc. Parents have an opportunity to create an encouraging tone around the dinner table with intentional conversation and language that may open doors for deeper conversations and expressions of feelings.
For example, a family dinner game might include each person sharing their favorite part of the day and their hardest part of the day. In addition, moments spent riding in the car can be valuable times of instruction and meaningful conversation from an emotional and spiritual perspective. All of these activities serve to strengthen your child’s emotional vocabulary. As they formulate their vocabulary, they can be more mindful of what they are experiencing. Furthermore, they’ll have the tools to readily articulate what is happening emotionally and to communicate with trusted friends and family.
MORE PRACTICAL STEPS
In addition to increasing emotional conversations, there are numerous practical steps that parents can take to aid the child’s transition between schools. Here are just a few ideas:
Contact the guidance counselor to schedule a tour of the new school prior to the first day
Try to find a family with a child entering the same grade of the school and help your kids connect in advance. It may be helpful to invite the entire family over for a casual dinner so that the kids can get to know one another. Learn more about the school from the other family’s perspective.
Help your child find out information that is unique to their new school: Explore the school’s dress code, determine their class schedules in advance, and inquire about how the lockers work.
Each of these steps may be helpful ways to aid in your child’s transition.
SLEEP, EATING, EXERCISE, & ROUTINE
As August progresses and school becomes a new routine, continue to stay attuned to your child as they adjust to school. Four important areas of your child’s life to consider include sleep, nutrition, exercise, and morning routine. According to the Mayo Clinic, the number of hours a child from ages 5 to 18 needs for sleep ranges from 8 to 11 hours per night, depending on the age of your child and your child’s individual needs. It is crucial to know your child’s nightly need for sleep and to make their sleep a priority even if it means saying no to evening activities.
A balanced diet is essential for students to be at their best for learning and for their body to function properly. Balanced eating may help your student to face any emotional challenges during the day. Some simple nutrition guidelines from the Mayo clinic suggest considering nutrient-dense foods including protein, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Incorporate more whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, popcorn, brown and wild rice, and limit refined grains while avoiding added sugar as well as saturated and trans fats. In addition, be certain your child is staying hydrated.
The Mayo Clinic recommends children and teens ages 6 and older get one hour of physical exercise per day. Exercise and movement are a wonderful time to connect with your child and to spend time together.
Finally, make the morning routine a priority. When possible, a predictable and peaceful breakfast is conducive to checking in emotionally with your student before school. This may require that backpacks are packed and breakfast is prepped the night before.
In closing, remember to pray for your children often. Parents have wonderful intentions and some good follow-through, but we need the Lord’s strength for ourselves and for our children. Our Heavenly Father cares about children and truly loves them unconditionally.
Finally, know that the challenges our children face can be used by the Lord to shape their character and make them more like Him. For an excellent resource on praying for your child, check out Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, by Jodie Berndt.
Warning signs that your child may be having difficulty adjusting to a new school or school year (Always rule out the medical cause of these symptoms before assuming they are emotional):
Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
Having a sense of impending dread, panic, or danger
Loss of interest in activities once found interesting
Significant mood swings
Notes and Resources:
Jodie Berndt, Praying the Scriptures for Your Children (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001).
Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan, Are My Kids On Track? (Bloomington, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2017), chap. 1.