It’s that time of year again, back to school! The beginning of a new school year can be a stressful time for children and parents. Some toddlers are transitioning for the first time into preschool and saying goodbye to their daycare providers, others are for the first time going to have the experience of being away from mom or dad for an extended period of time. Older children and teens may be looking forward to seeing their school friends or may be feeling quite a bit of anxiety anticipating what this new school year will be like.
Starting a new school year on a good note can influence a child’s attitude, confidence, and social and academic performance for the entire year. Parents can be a vital resource for their children both in preparation for the school year and once classes begin1. Below we offer some Do’s and Don’ts for parents to ease their own and their child’s anxiety about starting a new school year.
Do Visit the School
Try to attend a school open house or take the time to walk around the school with your child before classes begin. Familiarizing your child with his or her environment will help to ease nerves and allow your child to feel more comfortable walking around on his or her own once classes begin. If you have an older child, ask your child to show you around the school in order to refresh your child’s memory as well as your own2!
Do Reconnect with Peers
It is reassuring for children to know that they will see a familiar face in their classroom. You may call parents to find out if students from last year’s class are in your child’s class this year. Scheduling a play date or school carpool with a peer in your child’s class may help your child to feel more socially comfortable and excited to meet the other students in class2. Once classes begin, do not be afraid to reach out to other parents and schedule times for your children to get to know one another outside of the school setting.
Do Reestablish a Routine and Focus on Sleep Hygiene
Creating a school routine will help your child to know what to expect once school begins and it may also make for a less stressful household environment in general. Practice going to sleep and waking up earlier, setting the alarm, putting books into a book bag, as well as morning rituals such as getting dressed for school and packing a lunch. Once school begins, try to stick to this routine so that your child feels comfortable with his or her responsibilities on school days2.
Do Create a Homework Space
We recommend designating a special place where children can do their homework as well as setting a regular time to do homework. It is important to remove distractions from this space, as well as to make sure that all supplies needed for homework are readily available. This will increase time on task, promote positive homework behaviors, and make homework more fun for your child. Show interest and praise your child’s efforts and completion of homework assignment3.
Do Ask Specific Questions
Ask specific questions, as your child may be more inclined to answer when you do so. For example, you may ask, “What are three new things you learned today?” or “What do you think you learned in math class today?”4 As most parents know, simply asking general questions, for example, “How was your day?” will often result in a single word answer, “Fine.”
Do Make a Family Calendar
Encourage your child to help you create a fun family calendar. Use stickers, markers, and other art supplies in order to make a simple calendar that your child is proud to call his or her own. Once classes begin, add major deadlines, due dates, events, and extracurricular activities to this calendar so that all events are in one place. This calendar will help children to visualize their week. Also be sure to point out important events to your child every week so they know what is in store for them within the next few days4.
Don’t Set Too High of Expectations
Challenges and setbacks are a natural part of school for every child, and parents should be prepared for numerous highs and lows throughout every school year. Try to avoid setting unrealistic expectations, as placing too much stress on a child may make a child feel anxious. It may help to create a list of expectations with your child to ensure you are on the same page, as well as maintaining an open dialogue so adjustments can be made if necessary5.
Don’t Wait Until Teacher Conferences if You Have Concerns
Even with excellent preparation, some students might still need extra help to meet academic or social challenges in school. Some children need additional support and identifying and meeting those needs early on is an important step. Asking your child’s teacher for suggestions or places to seek help at the first signs of trouble will help prevent your child from falling further behind and also will enable your child to have the most successful year possible4.
Sunfield Center Psychologists are available to help assess children’s academic and social strengths and challenges as well as develop and implement an action plan to help children be more successful at home and at school. For more information or to schedule an appointment please visit our website or call us at 734-222-9277.