Back to School! Strategies to Aid the Transition

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By Leslie Larsen, LCSWLeslie Larsen, LCSW

I encourage you to begin taking steps now to help your family transition as smoothly as possible from summer to school.

Get Back on Schedule
Now is the perfect time to ease your children back into their school-year sleep routine. It is generally recommended that bed time and wake-up time be gradually shifted instead of leaving it to the night before school starts.  Consider the following recommendation:  head to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier every few days over a 1 week or 2-week period.

Remember this bedtime change also means needing to navigate your children away from mind-activating activities such as playing video games and watching television to more mind-relaxing activities earlier in the night.  Dr. Shives, a sleep expert and founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine, recommends dimming the lights around the home about 2 hours before bedtime.

Make Getting Up Worth It
Dr. Pelayo, a Professor with Stanford’s Sleep Center, recommends making getting up worth it to your children, at least for the first few days of the new routine.   From personal experience, I find it much easier to get up in the morning if I have something to look forward to.  So why not use the same strategy with your children? What about allowing your children 15 minutes to watch part of their favorite television show or taking 10 minutes to read a book together before heading out the door to school?

Talk to your child
Going back to school can be stressful for children of all ages, so I encourage you to create some uninterrupted time to sit down and ask your children about their fears and worries.   Remember nerves are normal during times of change, so offer your children empathy.  Also, I recommend pairing empathy and understanding with encouragement.  For example, encourage your children to face their fears, while reassuring them you are here to support them through the transition.  Renee Clausell, a child psychologist in Long Island, New York, encourages parents to talk with their children about new experiences – such as using the bathroom at preschool or learning how to use a locker- “in a playful and creative, role-playing way.”

Remember you don’t need to know all the answers or exactly what to say and how to say it.  Brian D. Johson, Ph.D. and Laurie Berdahl, M.D. say, “The most important thing is to listen, show interest and concern, and convey that you understand how hard it is for kids to grow up today with all the pressures and fears they face.”

Seek out one-on-one time with your child every day
Challenge yourself to set aside 20 minutes a few times a day, per child, to enjoy an activity together. Bethany Hardy, writer and communications consultant, says, “Whether it involves reading a few extra books to your toddler, taking turns making up a story with your preschooler, or gazing at the stars with your oldest after the others have been put to bed, your children will savor your undivided attention. And both of you will benefit from putting yet another hectic day on hold.”