8 Tips for Transitioning Back to School
It's that time of year again. Some might even say, it's the most wonderful time of the year: Back to school! Over the next few days and weeks, families will prepare for and begin the new school year by switching back to normal bedtimes, collecting school supplies and school clothes, digging backpacks and folders out of from under beds or in closets, and helping psych kids up for the new year. To offer a little help, here are a few tips for the new year.
8 Tips for Transitioning Back to School
1. Routine, Routine, Routine
Routines are wonderful tools. Some people have a knack for setting and keeping routines, and others find it very difficult, but kids, despite how much they may protest, thrive in routine. Routines cut down on anxiety, ease time management, and allow for increased independence. Set clear expectations and allow for time to get into routine both at night and in the morning. It is a good idea to begin the back to school routines before school actually begins. A few days is usually sufficient, but some kids may need longer.
If you have a child who is just beginning school, is transitioning to a new school, or is prone to anxiety, having routines in place helps them understand what to expect and helps alleviate that anxiety. Adding some calming or reinforcement opportunities throughout routines can be helpful for children who are nervous about school. Allowing your child to choose a "theme song" to be listened to as they get ready or as they ride to school, giving them a bracelet, necklace, or other object to hold or fidget with when they are nervous, or setting a reinforcement system, such as putting a sticker on a calendar, for each day they get ready and off to school smoothly are all ways to ease a child into a new environment.
2. Set a consistent bed time and wake up time
Kids need consistency, and they also need rest. Kids and adolescents are less likely to get the sleep they need during the school year due to busy schedules. Teens are at the highest risk for fatigue and lack of sleep because they are likely to go to bed later than younger children. In an effort to give teens more freedom, many parents allow teens to go to bed when they are ready. Because school days usually start early, give your kids time to sleep. If they have to catch the bus at 6:45am (or even earlier), in order to get the 9-10 hours a night they need to be healthy and alert, they need to go to bed by 8 or 9pm, and that is giving them only around 45 minutes to get ready in the morning, which, let's face it, is difficult. While older kids may balk at the earlier bed time, and some nights it may be difficult to make it due to practices or other obligations, aim for the same time every night.
3. Start morning prep at night
Do as much as you can the night before to get ready for the morning. Have children choose their clothes, pack backpacks, check homework, sign permission slips, etc. at night rather than leaving it until morning. If your child takes a lunch, this prep may include packing their lunch at night. Be sure to observe food safety practices to insure that their lunch stays safe to eat. Store their lunch in the fridge overnight if it has anything that is not shelf stable and place an ice pack in it in the morning. If you prepare your child's lunch, be sure to give them healthy foods. Convenience foods like prepackaged chips and snack cakes are easy to throw in a lunch box, but they are high in sugar and saturated fat and low in nutritional value and may cause an afternoon crash. There are healthy options that will keep your child healthy, full, and alert. They may take a little more prep time, but they don't have to be any more expensive. There are lots of ideas for healthy lunches on our Pinterest board!
4. Avoid morning screen time
In order to streamline the morning routine, avoid morning screen time. Time flies when a child is sitting watching TV or a tablet. Often, children who are, for example, eating breakfast while watching a screen, do not eat or do not eat quickly enough to leave on time. Some children may get upset if their show isn't over when it is time to leave for school, so the screen adds stress to the morning. If you feel like your child can handle screen time before school, set limits such as making sure they are completely ready to walk out the door (all the way down to shoes and brushed hair) before turning anything on. An alternative to screen time may be listening to music. Upbeat wake-up music can get you and your kiddos going!
5. Streamline breakfast
Offer your children healthy options for breakfast that they can prepare or get themselves. If you have time and inclination to prepare breakfast every morning, that's wonderful! However, don't feel obligated to do that when other options exist. Many parents are also getting ready for their day or corralling children, so having options available that kids can eat on their own is a way to streamline breakfast. Although cereal and toaster options are easy to prepare, they are often high in sugar or children get bored with them over time. Preparing things ahead of time like pancakes, fruit bars, or scrambled eggs and freezing them can be an easy and cost effective way of giving your kids variety at breakfast. Other options include microwave oatmeal packets, granola bars, fruit, etc. Breakfast that is high in protein and low in sugar will keep your child full and keep them from hitting a mid-morning sugar crash.
6. Give your kids time to get ready in the morning
Make sure your child is up early enough to get ready for school without rushing. It happens to everyone once in a while that someone's alarm doesn't go off or they sleep through it; however, letting children (especially young ones) sleep late every day causes rushing that adds unnecessary stress to the morning. Rushing often leads to yelling, crying, and frustration. Getting up in time to get ready will help you allow your child to move at their own pace rather than feeling like you need to stand over them and repeat "Put your shoes on! Brush your hair! Did you eat breakfast yet?!"
For older kids, especially, it is important that they be able to get themselves ready without constant reminders/nagging from parents. They are learning responsibility and time management, so giving them time to get ready is important. They will likely want to groom themselves more than a younger child would, and they are less likely to want their parent to help them. This independence includes setting their own alarm or making sure they get out the door on time on their own. Checking to make sure they are up is helpful, but let them try to get up on their own.
7. Avoid overscheduling
It is easy to get sucked into too many activities at the beginning of school. There are sign-up sheets everywhere, and different clubs and organizations are asking for you to volunteer and for your child to participate. Be thoughtful and intentional about what you sign up for and what you allow your child to participate in. Especially if you have more than one child, you may find yourself constantly shuttling children around to activities and meetings. Set limits on what activities your child(ren) can participate in. It is difficult to say no when they are excited about something, but they need to learn to make choices and to have down time, and you need down time as well. It is ok to say no to committees and parent boards and other things you may feel obligated rather than excited to participate in. Find ways to plug in that fit your interests and schedule.
8. Make an after-school plan
Will your child be coming home to an empty house? Will you be picking them up and taking them back to work with you? Will they have a babysitter or go to after school care? Make sure your child knows what is going on and that you communicate with their teachers and all other necessary people what they will be doing each day. Most schools have strict policies about pick-up/end-of-day procedures. If your child typically walks home, but they are picked up when it is raining, the school needs to know that. If you normally pick them up, but grandma is getting them on Fridays, the school (and your child) needs to know that as well.
If you plan for your child to come home after school and stay alone, be sure you set clear expectations for them so they understand what they can and cannot do. Our Family Life Friday "Home Alone" series outlines some issues of readiness, safety, and structure you should consider before leaving your child home alone. The more comfortable you and your child are about their after school routine, the less anxious everyone will be.
Good luck, and have a wonderful school year!
For more information:
Teens and Sleep: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep
Back to school routines: https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/how-to-be-a-parent/back-school-get-good-routine-going/