August 11, 2012

How to Ease the Back-to-School Transition Jitters

I can't believe summer vacation is almost over. The transition back to school seems to come all too soon every year! 

This time of summer we all start to feel stressed about transitioning from summer to school. I don't know any students who find transitions enjoyable. Anxious behavior is to be expected from most of our children (and more than a few parents and teachers!).

Please consider sharing the suggestions listed below with parents to help ease your students' transition back to school.
  • An increase in difficult behavior or tantrums is not unusual. Be calm and consistent with your expectations.  Consistency of expectations is essential to decrease anxiety.  Do your best to stay emotionally calm. Positively reinforce calm behavior with praise and preferred activities.
  • Keep conversations about school starting to a minimum. Discussing it over and over again does not calm anxieties. Imagine if you are afraid of spiders and the people around you want to talk about spiders every day for a couple of weeks. I doubt that it would help you stop being afraid of spiders. Continue about the business of getting ready for school (buying supplies, etc), but minimize the conversation while occasionally emotionally checking in. Let your child know that if they do want to talk about their feelings, you are available. Saying something like "How are you feeling about going back to school?" or "Do you have any worries?" can help your child know that you are available to talk.  
  • Respect your child's feelings. Don't try to convince them to be excited about school. Simply listening and reflecting back their feelings can help take a lot of the "power" out of those anxious feelings. 
  • Children who have difficulty with transitions do much better with a visual schedule. This is absolutely one of the most effective things you can do to decrease anxiety!  Print off either of the two calendars below or have your child make his/her own. The week before school starts help your child write a plan for each day. It would be helpful for them to also fill in an activity that they are looking forward to doing after school each day for the first week of school. Help them see that preferred activities can be enjoyed even after school starts again.
  • Check off each day as they pass so your child can see what is next on his plan.
  • Get your child back into the routine of a regular bedtime and wake time. Please don't wait until the weekend before school starts to adjust their sleep schedule. 
  • Consider arranging a playdate with a school friend. Consider taking the kids to play on the playground at school. This can remind them of the fun times they will have once they are back at school.  
  • Arrange everything for the first day of school the night before (clothing, lunchbox, supplies, etc). Eliminating the mad rush in the morning will help keep things calm.  Again, having a simple visual schedule made for the morning can make things more predictable and calm for your child. You can help your child write or draw a schedule or you can make one using google images. When my children were younger, I actually took photographs of them performing each step of the schedule. It was more motivating to see themselves successfully doing the right thing. A basic morning visual schedule can look something like this:  
Or this...
Or it can look like a simple list if your child is a good reader and does not need picture cues.

  • Above all, keep a positive and calm attitude. Your "vibe" is easily felt by your child.

Finally, if your school holds a "Meet the Teacher" event before the beginning of the school year, consider setting up alternate times for your students to come in without the crowds. Also, consider snapping some photos of the classrooms and new teacher's faces to email home before the beginning of school. Simple things like showing where a student will put his backpack or lunchbox help ease anxiety.

I hope these suggestions will be helpful.  Now go enjoy the last bit of summer vacation! ~ Kelley