How to help kids at every age through the back-to-school transition
Reality has hit- school is back in session. This can be both an exciting and welcomed time for parents and children yet also a time of stress and, if we are honest, panic and confusion, too.
Change can be difficult for people of all ages. During the school year it can present a unique challenge to those children who struggle academically and socially. With these challenges, parents have the opportunity to join their children in working through these struggles so children can walk through the halls with a strong sense of self and feel supported by the ones they love.
In honor of those mnemonic devices we learned in school, we have outlined some ideas under the acronym, POS - Preparation, Organization, and Socialization. Everyone knows SOS is the signal for help, so before you feel you have to send up that flare, we hope learning POS can help!
Kindergarten and Elementary School
One of the first transitions we encounter is entering school for the first time. As our children achieve specific milestones and learn to feel empowered, parents have the unique role of supporting them throughout this process and providing much needed reassurance. At many stages of development, change can bring about a multitude of feelings. Some children thrive in this environment and accept and enjoy change. Children with hyperactivity, impulsivity, or poor speaking or relational skills can have more difficulty with change in their environment and need additional support and encouragement.
- During family time, read books with themes of school and friendships, or do activities together that promote learning of shapes, colors, etc.
- Reinforce a calm morning routine! Utilize and engage your child in making charts with pictures of eating breakfast, brushing teeth, showering, and getting their backpack ready. This will help reduce the ‘hurry up’ mentality that adds stress to the day.
- Talk to the teacher and find out the best way they like to communicate (email, voicemail, etc).
- Keep a routine from day one. Let’s face it, trying to keep a schedule after the summer is hard on you, too! This will set the pace of knowing the after-school routine for the rest of the year.
- Set clothes aside the night before to avoid any last minute fashion requests.
- Promote social skills through daily play and encourage play dates. Teaching children sharing, taking turns, waiting patiently, and good sportsmanship at home will extend to the school environment.
- Separation anxiety is real! Talk to your child about any questions or fears. Carve out time each day to sit and talk to your child, snuggle with them, and positively reinforce this new adventure. Some children are encouraged by holding onto a keepsake to remind them of you such as a picture, or other token (shell, pebble, sticky note).
Middle school can be a stressful time for students since there are different teachers, classrooms, and new peers to meet. Many children experience added stress if they struggle with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and building friendships. At all levels of the social and educational spectrum, children at this developmental stage are experiencing the need to learn responsibility and become independent. Friendships also become first priority at times. Through friends, children learn about themselves and who they are becoming. Children who have difficulty in forming healthy friendships may struggle in other areas of their life.
- If you haven’t gotten all the school supplies yet, (no one’s judging) you will likely get lucky with sales! Teachers may jump right into the curriculum on day one.
- Now that they have tested the waters in this new environment, encourage self-expression and confidence and set aside time with your child and shop together for clothing or an inexpensive “new to you” item they can wear.
- Avoid last minute arguments and encourage your children to get their backpacks and clothes ready the night before. It’s a win-win for everyone!
- Help your child learn their locker combination, and plan for keeping it organized. Get them involved creatively in how they want to decorate it.
- Talk to your child about their schedule and how they are adjusting to the larger campus. This can help them process feelings so they feel less self-conscious and anxious about class transitions.
- Help them learn how to stay organized with class assignments and allowing time for test prep. If your child struggles in this area, reach out to the school guidance counselor for direction. Teach them by example that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.
- Reinforce community involvement and cultural sensitivity. Engage in family-planned volunteer work and educate your children about how families come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors.
- Encourage your child to sign up for clubs, sports, or other positive extracurricular activities. This will not only help them practice social skills, but build on their sense of responsibility and belonging.
- Monitor online activity. As you know now, it’s not just the bigger kid in school who is the bully. Cyber bullying has become the biggest and most difficult form bullying to manage. You can monitor your child’s cell phone with a software program like mymobilewatchdog.com. Other helpful websites for online safety are
The high school years bring several new perspectives and challenges for students. Friendships might become as important to teens as their family, and most of them begin developing more mature thinking skills and start setting goals for the future.
- Remind your child not to procrastinate. As we know, time management is a skill that, if developed early in life, can prove invaluable. Establish a homework schedule and encourage them to jot down assignments in their planner or in their phone’s calendar. Reinforce the added benefit of finishing assignments early, which allows them to relax when their friends are panicking.
- Talk to the school counselor early in the year regarding expectations and the overall culture of the school, particularly if your child is an incoming freshman.
- Encourage your child to be on time to class in order to learn responsibility which will help them to plan their day and turn assignments in on time. The high school student can start looking at their ability to be on time as a way to prepare for their jobs and future endeavors.
- Encourage your child to manage their weekends and utilize them for completing their assignments as well as participating in club activities or getting a job.
- Encourage your child to speak with their guidance counselor regarding career planning as well as academic needs in order to learn to advocate for themselves.
- Encourage affiliation with positive friends that will support their goals and assist them with academic endeavors.
- Remind them that romantic relationships should not consume their life to the point that they are no longer spending time with others, completing school work or responsibilities.
- Remind them of the negative effects of giving in to peer pressure. Encourage your child to “Be Yourself!” and discuss how this will cause others to respect them more due to being an independent thinker that does not follow the crowd.
- Encourage them to find a challenging club or organization in which to participate. Discuss the benefits of these affiliations when looking forward to college in the future as well as when applying for a job.
- Maintain open communication; it’s not unusual for teens to be resistant to sharing their thoughts and feelings, but letting them know you are available when they are ready to talk can provide a strong foundation.
Hopefully these tips will help you and your children have a great start to the new school year!