My kids head back to school with a spring in their step. Caked in sunscreen, wearing brand new outfits and backpacks, they head back excited to see their friends again. In fact, they’re so excited, it’s painstaking to take the extra moment to hug us before parting. They just want to break free and run to their friends.
Although I’m happy for them, it is bittersweet for me. While I love their enthusiasm and am eternally grateful for the school community, the back to school transition is hard. Both of my big kids are strong-willed, bright and sensitive. And as a result, most transitions are hard for them. In fact, ending school is almost as challenging as going back. When life switches gears, they are more prone to meltdowns, defiant behaviour, and angry episodes.
Back to school is our biggest transition
Not only is their day to day life completely different, but school takes a lot of energy. They have less downtime and more instructional time. They must stay composed all day while navigating many different relationships and expectations. By the end of the school day, their emotions are spent up and they’re restless. Last year, I really saw how exhausted and overwhelmed a child can get from school. My son started kindergarten and had after-school meltdowns for weeks on end. After a few rocky back to school shifts, I now have a game plan. Thanks to the help of my mom, who was an elementary school principal, I am equipped with her insights too.
Best ways to make the back to school transition better
Whether your child is starting school for the first time or you’re looking to make the back to school transition as smooth as possible, there are effective tips to help.
If starting at a new school, take a tour of the school ahead of time.
Before school starts, ask to meet with the staff, tour the school, and take pictures of the building. Once home, you can discuss who you met, where your child’s classroom will be, and what they can expect on their first day. Let the school know about any concerns or changes in your child’s life. Your child’s time at school will go much smoother if teachers are aware of any challenges your child is facing.
- Is she struggling with reading?
- Are you worried he may have a developmental delay?
- Is there a change in her behaviour lately?
- Did the family experience a big change over summer, like the arrival of a new sibling, the death of a pet, the separation of you and your spouse?
When the school knows your concerns and/or about any changes, they are better equipped to help your child.
For younger children or children with special needs, use social stories to prep them for the big day
Social stories are stories where the parent describes any struggles or worries the child may have, as well as how they might master the day. For example, “When Ellie goes to school, she’ll be excited and a bit nervous. There will be times she doesn’t want to sit still or she’ll wonder when Mommy will be back to pick her up. She will have fun playing with the puzzles in the corner and she will play with her friends. When she misses Mommy, she will remember Mommy will be there right after school.”
There are also many books to help with separation anxiety, like The Kissing Hand or Llama Llama Misses Mama. For older children, it can be helpful to talk about any concerns or stresses they may have in more age-appropriate ways.
- Involve your child in back to school shopping. Something as simple as a new water bottle, backpack or outfit can make school especially exciting
- When school starts, be prepared with snacks for after school. As my principal mother will attest, young kids tend to get distracted at school and don’t eat as much as they should. Whether they’re taking the bus, walking, or in the car ride home, make sure they have something to snack on before they get home. Getting their blood sugar up will help mitigate after-school meltdowns
- Allow for a lot of downtime after school. Free play is the best way for children to unwind. Weather permitting, I pack a picnic and head to the park after school. The kids graze on healthy snacks and burn up any pent up energy from sitting in school. When outside isn’t an option, sometimes we try one of these calming activities
The transition back to school can be daunting for parent and child. With a little prep and the right strategies, it can be more peaceful and happy for the whole family.
Would you like to be the first to hear about our new products and more?
Sign up for our Nature’s Path Newsletter.