The Experts Speak

by Christa Melynk Hines

As families prepare their students for the school season, educators weigh in on best practices for managing the transition back to school. 

Get Into a Routine

Before school starts, adjust your child’s bedtime and wake them up five to ten minutes earlier each day leading up to the first day.

Also, post a morning task chart.

“By making a visual schedule, kids know what is expected of them and they can check off the pictures or word phrases as they do each one,” says Tara Walrod, a school counselor.

If your child is ready on time, offer rewards like free time before school.

Plan Ahead

“Try and pick a day to get school supplies or school clothes when less people are shopping to help enjoy the time together,” suggests Molly Gafney, a fifth grade teacher. 

Log In To Your School’s Website

“Most districts post everything from PTA information, to upcoming events, to curriculum information, and even videos and power points,” says Steve Cook, a director of curriculum and instruction. “Clicking on those links only takes a few minutes, but the information gained will be priceless.”

Orient Your Child

“Schedule a school tour with the school counselor or principal if you are new to the community, or if your child has special needs, which can heighten their sense of anxiety,” advises fifth grade teacher Anne Braun.

Attend back-to-school events like Sneak-a-Peeks, meet-and-greets, and school orientations. These are “a great way for students to walk around the building, get comfortable with their surroundings and re-connect or meet new friends,” says middle school principal Shelly Nielsen.

Discuss Fears

Listen to your child’s concerns about the upcoming year. Offer strategies to help them work through them. For example, middle schoolers often worry about opening their lockers. Give them a combination lock to help them practice.

“If they are worried about making new friends, act out how to approach someone new or start a new conversation,” Gafney says.

Also, ask the school counselor for ideas. “Many times, schools assign new students peer mentors the first few days of school,” Nielsen says.

Practice Drop-Off

Hash out transportation details with your child before school starts. If you plan to drive your child to school, do a dry run.

“Make sure your child is getting out of the correct side of the car, can shut the door themselves, and knows where the front door is located,” recommends Jessica Adair, a school counselor.

Consider Health Matters

To help your child stay healthy throughout the year, make sure they get adequate rest and stay hydrated.

“When you’re feeling sick, stay home. You want to spread love with your friends, but you don’t want to spread germs!” says school nurse Destinee Peghee, RN, BSN, MBA.

Most schools require kids to be fever-free for 24 hours before returning to the classroom.

Encourage Independence

Many parents walk their kids in on the first day of school. After that, encourage your child to walk to class on their own to help them build a sense of independence and responsibility.

“We like for boys and girls to feel that sense of accomplishment and pride by successfully making their way to their classrooms on their own by the second week of school,” Walrod says.

As kids approach middle school, encourage them to advocate and take responsibility for themselves.

“Allow your child to be more responsible for completing homework, packing their own lunches, and cleaning/organizing their backpacks,” Braun says. 

Celebrate the First Day

Many families take photos in the same place every year. Others plan first day celebrations by visiting the ice cream counter, a favorite restaurant, or picnic with other families at a nearby playground.

“I love when families have rituals around the first day of school,” says Brian Watson, an elementary school principal. “These rituals are counted on every year to help a child relax and know that it will be a good year.” 

Manage Through Bad Days

After a long day at school, your child might come home feeling irritable, tired, or frustrated with a problem.

“Listen and empathize. Be careful not to jump in too quickly or overreact to what is really a small problem or conflict,” Walrod advises.

Instead, encourage creative problem-solving.

If your child is complaining of anxiety-related tummy aches, make a plan with the school nurse or counselor.

“The most important thing is to get your student in the building,” Peghee says. “Don’t let them talk you into leaving-they’ll have stomach aches for the next two months.”

A daily phone check-in with you or a few minutes in the nurse’s office before school can help your child manage their anxiousness, Peghee says.

Connect With Teachers

“Every educator wants every child to literally RUN to school because they can’t wait to be there,” Watson says. “When that isn’t the case, we want to work with you to try and figure out how we can work together to help lower your child’s anxiety and get into learning.”

Share your child’s interests and hobbies to help teachers zero in on what gets your student excited about learning. Always contact your child’s teacher or principal if you need clarification on anything, or to discuss any concerns.

Managing First Day Jitters

• Tell your child how you manage anxiety-provoking transitions.

• Practice deep breathing.

• Remind yourself “you got this.”

• Go on a walk, shoot hoops, or bike ride.

• Hug a loved one.

• Talk it out.

Source: Jessica Adair, school counselor

Helpful Resources for Transitions

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn Wemberly 

Worried by Kevin Henkes

Second Grade Holdout by Audrey Vernick

Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul by Jack Canfield

The Manual to Middle School: The “Do This, Not That” Survival Guide for Guys by John Catherman

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