Back-to-school can be a stressful time, but parents can help children successfully cope with the end of summer vacation and the beginning of the school year.
Whether it’s returning from a long summer vacation or going to a new school, back to school time can be overwhelming for many parents, children, and teens. The transition from summer to school time can test families’ coping skills in dealing with adjustments such as new teachers and new classrooms as well as managing hectic school and work schedules. Often, it’s the fear of the unknown—new classmates, teachers, or the thought of having hard classes—that is most stressful for children, around the beginning of school.
“The end of summer and the beginning of a new school year can be a stressful time for parents and children,” says psychologist Lynn Bufka, PhD. “While trying to manage work and the household, parents can sometimes overlook their children’s feelings of nervousness or anxiety as school begins. Working with your children to build resilience and manage their emotions can be beneficial for the psychological health of the whole family.”
Fortunately, children are extremely capable of coping with change and parents can help them in the process by providing a setting that fosters resilience and encourages them to share and express their feelings about returning to school.
APA offers the following back-to-school tips:
Restart your family’s school routine: A week or two before school starts, parents should try and get their children back into the school routine. This may mean they going to bed at a regular time and waking up early as they would do for school. Organizing backpacks, binders, lunchboxes and even cafeteria money will also help with the transition into the school routine and will help make the first morning go smoothly.
Get to know your neighbors: If your family is new to the neighborhood and your child will be starting at a new school, make an effort to get to know the other neighborhood children. Schedule play dates, or, for older children, find out where the neighborhood kids might go to safely hang out, like the community pool, recreation center or park.
Talk to your child: Asking children about their fears or worries about going back to school will help them share their burden. Inquire as to what they liked about their previous school or grade and see how those positives can be incorporated into their new experience. If your child expresses uncertainty about the new school year, arrange to walk through the building and visit your child’s locker or meet with a friend from the previous school year to help ease anxiety of the unknown and reconnect with classmates. After school starts, take time to listen to your children and discuss their day at school and any issues they may have.
Empathize with your children: Change can be difficult, but also exciting. Let your children know that you are aware of what they’re going through and that you will be there to help them with the process. Explain that while nerves are normal, not everything that is different is necessarily bad. It is important to encourage children to face their fears instead of falling into the trap of encouraging avoidance. Celebrate when they do something that made them nervous.
Get involved and ask for help: Parents and caregivers with knowledge of the school and the community will be better equipped to understand their child’s surroundings and the transition he or she is undergoing. To foster support, meet members of the community and school. If you feel that the stress of the school year is too much to handle, seek expert advice from a licensed psychologist who can help your family better manage and cope.