Summer is filled with lots of fun, rest, and relaxation. This often means staying up later than usual, waking up later than expected, and more lax rules around TV and technology use. As much fun as summer is, it often flies by in the blink of an eye, and before we know it, we are faced with getting back into the school and work routines that dictate the calendar.
While the adjustment from summer to back to school can be challenging, oftentimes, it is a welcome change for parents and, many times, children. As school approaches, the excitement for back-to-school shopping, seeing peers and friends, and meeting new teachers starts to build for most children. However, this is not true for all children. Some children see an increase in anxiety as the school year approaches.
Regardless of which category your child falls into, adjusting to earlier bedtimes, early morning routines, and more structured access to technology is challenging. Therefore, it is important to gradually ease back into the expected routines.
Below are some tips and tricks to set your child up for a successful transition back to school.
1. Ease into the transition.
Start to adjust betimes slowly up to two weeks before the first day of school but no less than one week out. Some children may need more time, and others may adjust faster. This means slowly setting the expectation for earlier and earlier bedtimes and earlier and earlier wakeups.
2. Set morning and evening routines that mirror the school year.
Upon waking up, create morning routines that align with what children must follow on the first day of school. For example, wake up, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, play on iPad, and get on the bus. Similarly, set evening routines that will minimize the work needed to get ready in the morning. For example, pack your backpack for the next day and place it by the door, pick out clothes the night before, shower, brush your teeth, read a story, and go to bed.
3. Incorporate motivation into morning routines to reduce stress.
Have your child help pick out a special alarm clock for back-to-school wakeups. Perhaps, one that sings a song shaped like their favorite character from a show and sings their favorite song at wakeup, or one that shines pretty lights at wakeup. If an alarm clock is not an option, use your child’s favorite stuffy and pretend the stuffy is waking them up while speaking for it. Give your child a transition toy/stuffy to go through their morning routine with them.
Setting your child up for a gentle, pleasant wakeup will make the morning routine much easier. Create additional motivation by letting your child know that if they complete their morning routines by a certain time or when the timer rings, they will have some time to play with toys or watch TV.
4. Create a checklist.
Create a visual schedule or checklist for your child to follow. Laminate it and make it interactive, so your child knows exactly what to expect and can check off their progress as they get closer to attaining their motivator (toys, technology, etc.).
5. Destress following routines.
Put access to toys and distractions out of reach and out of sight. If the goal is for your child to access that upon the successful completion of an expected routine, having free access will mean that they can get it before the routine is complete. This will likely create a battle, add more stress, and throw routines off balance.
6. Use a timer to assist with transitions.
If your child does not understand the concept of time or cannot read a clock, use a timer to assist with transitions and tasks. A timer will give your child a concrete understanding of how long each task will take and how long they have.
7. Give a choice where available.
Children often have very little control over their days and are subject to routines and structures imposed by adults. Choice is important to develop the expression of likes, dislikes, and self-advocacy but also helps to give your child a sense of autonomy and control over their environment. Therefore, it is important to offer choice whenever possible within the context of routines. For example, have your child pre-select their lunches and snacks. They can provide input on the types of snacks and lunches they want to eat at school, within reasonable parameters, of course!
8. Curb anxiety.
If your child is nervous about returning to school, prepare them by associating school with positive experiences. You can visit the school before the school year starts or play in the school playground. Have your child meet their teachers ahead of time, if possible. You can always email the principal to arrange something in advance. Staff are typically present in school up to two weeks prior to the start of the school year. Listen to your child actively, empathize with them, read “back to school” stories, and watch “back to school” shows.
Whether your child is excited or anxious about the start of the school year, easing back into a school routine will help make the transition less stressful and the start of the school year more successful. Wishing all our friends an exciting school year filled with meaningful connections and friendships.
Justyna Balzar is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst with a master’s degree in education. A co-founder of The Hangout Spot located in Norwalk, CT, she has over 15 years of experience with learners of varying profiles, between the ages of 3 and 18, across multiple settings.