The next few weeks are full of big and exciting changes! Back-to-school time can be full of fun and excitement, but also can bring up worries and nervous feelings. It is normal for children to experience sadness, worry or feel unsure as they embark on new classrooms, new friends, and new experiences. With support and help to manage their emotions, young children can be successful and experience delight and fun in their new adventures.
Teachers work hard to provide children with the support and encouragement for a smooth and positive back to school transition and help to build comfort and confidence at school.
Parents and families can continue the support and encouragement at home to help their child feel successful and happy as they head back to school with the following 10 tips:
- Talk through the steps of a new situation so children can know what to expect and can feel prepared. It also allows you to see how they might be feeling about it. Children don’t need to repeat it or have a long conversation about it, just the basics on what to expect can help.
Talk about, draw or write down the steps to a new experience (even if your child isn’t reading yet), visuals provide a concrete guide that children like to follow. It is helpful to talk during a calm moment the night before, during meal time, or earlier in the day. Provide the steps clearly and concisely and let them know what you expect.
Talk about specifics that are new like car line and drop off. Talk through the steps of car line. “First we will pull up in line with the other cars, we will wait our turn, I will let you know when it’s time and then a teacher will come to the car door to walk you into school. We will wave goodbye and you will walk safely and calmly into school.” Provide specific cues on what you would like to see from your child.
- Practice! Children love to move and be independent. Physically practicing a new task gives them the confidence to do it on their own when it’s time.
Take a walk up the stairs and let them show you their new classroom. Give the children the opportunity to be the leader and teach you all about the new classroom, materials or a new rule. Walk through the front door or observe older friends during car line together.
- Acknowledge their feelings and listen to their thoughts and worries. We often don’t experience just one emotion around new experiences and they are all normal and okay! Remember to acknowledge, not fix.
Let them know you understand: I know it can be sad to say goodbye to your teacher and friends. Share a time you felt nervous at doing something new. Children love to hear about adult feelings and know that you have different feelings too!
- Be encouraging and show confidence that they will be okay! Children take their cues from adults so our ability to manage our emotions and stay calm and positive is important.
A calming hand on a shoulder, practicing three deep breaths together to be calm, noticing our own body and actively trying to relax, and being consistent with the drop-off will model calm, consistency and confidence for your child.
- Consider a routine or ritual that can support a positive drop off.
Listen or sing the same song daily or have a special goodbye high-five upon arrival. Allow these moments to help cue to children that it is time to say goodbye.
- Make a calendar together that shows what day school starts.
Children can mark off the days with X’s or stickers to feel prepared and know what to expect.
- Share a plan for after school or when you get home so that your child can predict the end of the day. Knowing that they will have special time with you will allow children to feel safe and secure, to explore, and work hard at school.
Have a special after school activity planned on the first day like walking to the park, eating a favorite meal together or getting in PJs right after school to relax and watch a movie.
- Take time for quiet time or special moments and extra hugs leading up to the new school year and as they adjust to their new routine and schedule.
Plan for a fun snack together outside or listen to calming music in the car ride home.
- Anticipate that there will be upsets and tiredness. Transitions are hard for everyone. Young children are working hard to regulate and focus to meet the expectations of their new classrooms and get to know the rules. This takes a lot of work and often results in upsets and tiredness at home. Be patient and flexible.
Just like we may want to come home and relax on the couch after a hard day, children may need a little more time, support, and understanding to manage expectations and emotions they are experiencing during big transitions. Offer help to complete a task rather than another verbal reminder. Allow extra time to get ready in the morning or to get ready for bed. Slowing down and supporting will allow for a positive, peaceful transition for all.
- Focus on familiar routines and consistency at home. Stick to a morning and bedtime routine as best as you can (even if you have been able to move away from it over the summer or as they got bigger). Routine and rituals provide children with a sense of stability and safety so they can go out and explore their world with confidence!
Bring back that favorite book and read it nightly or add in time where each family member shares a feeling or experience from their day over dinner or before bed.
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!