By Diane Ferber, Co-Director of The Collaborative Center for Learning and Development at Greenwich Education Group
Getting the school year off to a good start can influence our children’s attitude, confidence and performance – both socially and academically. The beginning of the school year is a time of excitement and anticipation of new successes, friends and adventures.
However, even this exciting and positive transition from August to September requires an adjustment from many of summer’s rhythms to greater levels of activity, structures and scheduling associated with school life. Parents can help children manage the increased pace and stress of life by planning ahead, being realistic and maintaining a positive attitude.
Good physical health. Be sure your child is in good health and rested. If possible, leave a few days between that last family trip or camp and the first day of school for your child to relax and center.
Good mental health. Talk to your child about her/his feelings and expectations about the coming year, and establish a “check in” routine at a time in which your child is relaxed – in the car, in the evening or at dinner – before the complexity of the year makes it more difficult to carve out time.
Re-establish the bedtime, mealtime, morning and other household routines – at least one week before school starts.
Select a spot to keep backpacks and lunch boxes, and establish special study areas. By preparing, students often feel some control over their return to school, and appreciate the chance to “set up” their special spaces.
Arrange social opportunities to renew friendships and establish new ones. Try to arrange get-togethers with some of your child’s school friends before school starts and during the first weeks of school to help re-establish positive social relationships with peers. If your child is attending a new school, this is particularly valuable to provide your child with some familiar faces and shared experiences to anchor them that first day.
The First Week:
Clear your own schedule if possible. Special after school outings and time to talk with your older student about his/her first week may help him/her acclimate to the school routine and overcome any nervousness over the transition into a new school year.
Prepare the night before. Help students learn to plan and organize by providing them with time and choices of clothing, lunch, etc. the night before. Leave plenty of extra time. Experts suggest that we make sure our children have plenty of time to get up, eat breakfast and get to school without feeling rushed or anxious.
After school. Review with your child the after school schedule that includes who will be picking her/him up and what activities are planned. A large month at a glance wall calendar will help her/him visualize her/his week, plan homework around activities and appointments and know what to expect each day.
Share your excitement for learning. When we talk about what our children will be learning during the year, our enthusiasm becomes contagious. We can share our confidence in their ability to gain skills, and shift the focus from grades to learning. Learning requires patient, attentive and positive energy!
A Little Nervous?
Let your child know you care. If your child is anxious about school, send personal notes in his lunch box or her book bag. Experts suggest that our children absorb our emotions, so your optimism and confidence will help their transition. Reinforce your belief in their ability to handle new situations. This also means that children absorb your anxiety, so model optimism and confidence for your child!
Let your child know that it is natural to feel nervous. Most children experience a little nervousness anytime they start something new, and we can remind them of past successes. We can also reassure them that once they are familiar with classmates, teachers and routine, the nervousness will abate, and share our own stories in which this occurred.
Reinforce your child’s ability to cope. When children have a particular concern, experts suggest providing them a few strategies to manage a difficult situation on their own, while encouraging them to share the concerns and report back on their successes. While it is tempting to zoom in, try to help your child generate his/her own strategies and learn to trust him-/herself!
Go for quality, not quantity, especially early in the school year. Current research suggests that our children benefit most when we encourage them to participate in one or two activities that are enjoyable for them, reinforce social development, and teach new skills. Too much scheduled time can be stressful and make it harder to concentrate on schoolwork.
Let your children know that there are outside school supports available to them to help organize time and workload, help them through transitions, respond to their anxiety and nervousness, and support a particularly difficult subject. Children can feel that they need to solve their problems all on their own. Knowing there are resources to support them and that many capable students take advantage of them can offer reassurance about asking for help.
If you child evidences difficulty settling into the new school year, share your concerns with your child’s teacher, and raise the issue early on. The goal is a supported transition to a school year experience in which your child can thrive academically, socially and emotionally.
Diane can be contacted at The Collaborative Center for Learning and Development at 203-661-1609, Ext. 225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.