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Supporting Children Returning to School

As the summer comes to an end and autumn is approaching, the new academic year is around the corner. As with any type of change, transitioning to the start of a new school year can be a challenging adjustment for many children. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, or personnel in a school, there is much that can be done to support children getting acclimated to the new school year. Below are some tips to keep in mind to support children and help them have a smooth transition to school.

Create and stick to a consistent routine. Children thrive off of structure, as the sense of predictability provides them with comfort and certainty. Set regular times for meals, playtime, homework, bedtime, and morning routines. A visual schedule can be a helpful tool for children to refer to. Creating a reward system by offering prizes for sticking to the schedule can be helpful in motivating children to keep a consistent routine. Another way to increase a sense of familiarity is to arrange playdates with classmates or neighbors in order to surround your child with familiar faces.

Navigate emotions effectively. Uncomfortable emotions can come up during new experiences. Children are often scared to start school and/or sad that summer is over. It’s important to validate that change is difficult for most people. Talk to children about your own emotions to model effective navigation of uncomfortable emotions by normalizing discomfort. You can connect with children by sharing stories of your own experiences in school to normalize feeling nervous. You can also read books about positive school experiences to help children envision an exciting school experience.

There are no “bad” or “wrong” emotions. In terms of navigating uncomfortable emotions, you can help them learn to create space for their emotions and develop strategies to open up to these experiences. Helping them recognize that it isn't "bad" or "wrong" to feel anxious is an important process in allowing for the whole continuum of emotions. You can participate with them in practicing skills to open up to these emotions. Some examples of strategies that can help children cope with anxious feelings include taking deep breaths, visualizing emotions as colors, or using a physical object, like a toy, to anchor the child during strong emotions.

Empower children. Letting your children make some decisions in their transitioning back to school can be beneficial in creating a sense of agency in this process. For example, get them involved by allowing them to choose their school supplies, lunch box, backpack, and snacks. Some sense of autonomy through involvement in decision making will likely create some excitement about the experience.

Whether your child is starting school for the first time or returning to school after the summer break, observing discomfort in a child can evoke a sense of discomfort in adults. Keep in mind that this adjustment is a temporary experience that won’t last forever. If you think you may benefit from additional support coping with your child’s challenges, I encourage you to reach out and schedule a consultation.


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