by Alison Ratner Mayer, LICSW
A new school year can be both exciting and nerve racking for kids (and parents).
Here are a few things you can do to help your kids feel more confident, comfortable and secure about the Fall.
Tell your little one that you want to “play school” and see if they will take the lead. Tell them that you’ll be a student, a teacher, whatever they want and then buckle in for some good old imaginary play. Play in the classroom, play walking down the hall to the cafeteria, play lunch in the cafeteria. As a matter of fact, make lunch for your kids in their lunch box (and for you too) and sit down at the table together and eat lunch together. Ask them about how they clear their stuff, go out for recess together. Play is an incredibly helpful (and essential) way for kids to process and prepare for transitions. Play play play.
Kids feel better when they know what to anticipate. If you will be walking or riding bikes to school, start doing the route a week or so before school starts. If your kid is going on the bus, play bus. Be the bus driver and drive to school. Start playing in the school playground regularly. Help your kid perfect the monkey bars or something really cool so he feels confident out there when school starts. Get some friends together and meet at the playground so that your kids can get used to being there with lots of other kids as well. Look in the windows of the classrooms and talk about what cool things you think will be in there.
Communicate and Share
Talk with your kids about the things you loved most about school. Tell them about your favorite teachers, friends, projects, recess spots, whatever you can think of. Kids love to know their parents were kids too and that they may have had some of the same thoughts and feelings that they now have. Talk with them about the things that were scary for you when you were in school as well and how it turned out. Ask them if there are things that they are scared of. If they tell you, come up with plans together to make them feel better.
Start having play dates or encouraging your kids to hang out with their buddies. A whole summer of not seeing friends can make it difficult to get back in the social groove. Getting in some QT now will help make the transition less difficult and less awkward when they see their old friends again.
Prepare and Organize
Make sure you get your kids school supplies together and whatever else they need. Organized and prepared parents help make nervous kids feel a little better.
Get back into your routine well before school starts, especially the sleep and bed time routine. Rest is so important for kids (for all of us) and nerves can make that even trickier. Routines, structure and consistency are all things that reduce anxiety and calm nerves so starting this before school starts will really help.
Refresh Social Skills
Play some competitive games (sorry, trouble, card games, UNO, etc…) to give your kids’ sportsmanship a tune up. Make sure you are not letting them win on purpose and model having fun even if you’re not winning. For younger kids, do some playing (blocks, building, dolls, cars) to work on sharing, turn taking and problem-solving.
Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation
If your kids seem really anxious, try regularly listening to a kid’s mindfulness recording. Mindfulness can help kids learn to breath and relax and provides them with coping skills to use when they feel anxious or overly stimulated. There is a CD called “I can Relax” and several other aps to use.
Send your kids to school with a family picture in the back pack, an encouraging note, or a tiny keepsake that connects you and your little one. Remind them it needs to stay in the back pack but it can be there for a quick peak. You can draw family pictures together that can go in there or paint rocks with encouraging words. Lots of great pinterest ideas out there.
Seek Professional Help
If your child is losing too much sleep, seems obsessive about the transition, cries frequently about it, or has become overly angry or irritable, it may be time to seek professional help.
Transitions are tough and school is a big one for kids, hope this helps! Cheers to summer lasting a little while longer and to a great school year. Thanks for reading.
Alison Ratner Mayer, LICSW is a child and adolescent therapists and owner of Child Therapy Boston, a counseling and social skills practice for children and teens in the Greater Boston area.