Going from summer break back to the busy days of the school year can be a difficult transition for students and parents, but there are ways to ease into it.
Change can be exciting, but new teachers and pressures can be unsettling for kids. It takes time and flexibility to transition smoothly, especially for students who experience anxiety.
Tantrums, sleeping problems or outright refusal to participate are signs children may need clinical attention, said psychologist Courtney Keeton, who specializes in the treatment of childhood anxiety and selective mutism at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
“If a child’s anxiety is causing a great deal of distress in her or his daily life, or if getting along with family members or friends becomes difficult, normal activities in and outside of school are avoided, or there are physical symptoms like stomachaches or fatigue, these red flags indicate that the child’s anxiety should be evaluated by a child psychologist or psychiatrist,” Keeton said.
It’s normal for nearly all children to experience mild back-to-school jitters that gradually diminish over a few weeks. The key to success is for parents to help prepare children for school-year routines, such as an earlier bedtime and selecting the next day’s clothes ahead of time, Keeton said.
Sleep is incredibly important for students, said Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, board-certified sleep medicine physician and author of “The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety.”
Consequences from lack of good, healthy sleep range from inattentiveness to problems with impulse control, working memory, planning and organizing, he said.
“Insufficient sleep is a major cause of not only poor academic performance but poses an increased risk of obesity and cardio-metabolic dysfunction as well as mood disturbances, suicidal ideation, increased risk of athletic injury and motor vehicle accidents,” Rosenberg said.
Two weeks before school starts, parents should start putting children to bed earlier and stick to it on weekends, Rosenberg said. Calculate, based on your child’s age, how many hours of sleep they should be getting:
- Preschool: 10-13 hours
- School age (6-13): 9-11 hours
- Teens: 8-10 hours
“Then, based on what time they need to get up for school, work backward and put them to bed 15 minutes earlier every night or two, until their sleep/wake schedule is appropriate for their age,” Rosenberg said.
More tips to ease in
- Arrange play dates with one or more familiar peers before school starts, Keeton said. Research shows that the presence of a familiar peer during school transitions can improve children’s academic and emotional adjustment.
- Visit the school before classes begin, rehearse the drop-off, and spend time on the playground or inside the classroom if the building is open. Have the child practice walking into class while the parent waits outside or down the hall, Keeton said.
- Like anything new, starting the school year is challenging. Reassure your child it may be hard but should soon become easy and fun.