How to Manage a Peaceful Back-to-School Transition

Posted: February 7, 2019

It’s August 15th, and time to think about back-to-school emotions!

When school is about to start, what’s foremost on your mind?  What clothes do the kids need? Will their backpacks do for another year? How about folders, paper, and pencils? Are iPods allowed?  What time does the bus come?  Are lunches ordered or groceries purchased?

All the “practical” things rise to the surface with the yearly school-start ritual, but what really prepares children for the new school year is emotional readiness.

Maybe your kids are ready to kiss you goodbye and say, “See you after school, Mom!”  If so, you’re feeling very fortunate and sharing in their joyful anticipation.  If, on the other hand, your son or daughter is having some doubts about how it will be in the coming year, now is the time to help ease the fears the best you can.

1. Be mindful of using a tone of voice that doesn’t project “doom” about school.  If you’re not sure, ask another adult to listen to you and give feedback.  An example would be: “You know, once school starts, you’re going to have a lot more work to do and it’s not going to be easy.”  All the child hears is, “School will be horrible and I feel trapped.”

2. Instead of doom voice, use a realistic, encouraging voice.  Place your trust in the child’s ability to adjust smoothly.  “I know you’ll feel good about school once it gets started.  Think of all the kids you’ll see who haven’t been around all summer. ” Your child hears, “Dad thinks I’ll be OK.”

3. If your child struggles academically, remind him or her of the help that’s available. “Remember how Mrs. Carter was there for you last year, and you really made progress on your math?  She’ll be there when school starts, ready to help again!” Your child thinks, “Oh yeah, I forgot that some parts of school aren’t scary, like when I’m with Mrs. Carter and she explains things.”

4. Talk about taking things one step at a time.  Most kids panic because they feel they were supposed to already have done the current task by now.  Slowing down to allow them to truly absorb the material is the most helpful way to approach this.  “It seems like a big assignment, but it will really just be lots of little ones strung together.  I’ll get you started, and be sure to only do one small thing at a time.” Here’s another example where slowing down actually speeds up the process, as the defeated tantrum doesn’t have to occur.

5. Listen to the child’s expression of feelings without dismissing them.  “You’re really feeling worried,” tells the child, “I see you.”  No need to fix or talk him out of his worry.  Just listening can be so healing.

6. If your child struggles socially, instill confidence by saying, “I know it was rough last year when the kids teased you.  Let’s talk about how to respond or not respond when they do that this year.  Remember to ask an adult for help if the kids on the playground get too rough.  Remember to walk away when they say mean things.  Remember that you are keeping your power, and not giving it away by getting angry and getting into trouble.  And don’t forget that you had a great time with Simone on the playground last year.  I wonder how her summer was!”

For more help with back-to-school worries, click here to learn how parent coaching can be very useful. 

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