Returning to school after the summer break can be a challenging transition for students. Here are some tips for helping the children in your life transition back to in-person learning and have their best school year ever!
Review and Rehearse Routines: A clear, consistent routine can make school days go much more smoothly. Going over daily household routines and practicing them ahead of time will give everyone a chance to get more comfortable and avoid last-minute mix-ups and stress. In the week before school begins, consider doing a run through of a morning routine (wake up, dressing and hygiene, breakfast, and packing the school bag), the commute to school and reviewing after-school plans so everyone feels prepared and comfortable for the first day back. While building these habits, it’s important to offer kids specific praise for their efforts, not just for a successful outcome. If a child forgets their backpack, still let them know they did a great job organizing and packing it.
Check In with the Child: Your student likely has many feelings about returning to school: they may be happy to see friends, nervous about those friendships, excited for a more “regular” school experience, worried about schoolwork, sad that the summer is over – all at the same time! Encourage them to share with you by asking open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”): “How are you feeling about going back?” or “What do you think school will be like?” If a child indicates they’re nervous, follow up by asking them what exactly is making them concerned, and offer to brainstorm solutions or ways to increase their comfort.. The key to checking in is to really listen, and let them know their feelings are understandable and okay. Reassure young people that what they’re feeling is common and normal; sharing how you’re feeling about these changes may help them be more open, too.
Practice Social-Emotional Skills: While learning at home, kids may not have had to do things like wait for a turn, hold a thought/not interrupt, ask to use the bathroom, share toys or be aware of others’ personal space. Social skills like these are an important part of school success, and you can help children build these good habits. Encourage younger kids to “play school” and practice classroom behavior (you can switch things up and let them be the teacher gently correcting your behavior, too). For older students, ask them to think about the ways that school behavior and expectations differ from home. You can also help prepare young people for potentially stressful experiences by practicing coping skills. Coping skills help students respond to challenges in a safe, healthy way. Some easy coping skills to practice at home are deep breathing, or taking slow, deep breaths; visualization, during which they close their eyes and think of place that calms them down; and the “5-4-3-2-1 Method”, a way they can center themselves by thinking of 5 things they can see, 4 things they can hear, 3 things they can feel, 2 things they can smell and 1 thing they can taste.
Reconnect with Friends: Encourage young people to reconnect with friends in person prior to the start of school. Even if they may have stayed in touch via social media or texting, face-to-face interactions can be helpful for kids to feel comfortable in groups again. Reassure them that it’s normal for relationships to have changed and to feel a little awkward. If a student is transitioning to a new school, reach out to the parent coordinator and see if there are any social activities planned before school starts or offer to plan one yourself.
- Anne Van der Veer and Laura Sophocleous, LCSW, LMFT, CASAC; School-Based Health Center Program, Adolescent Medicine, Cohen Children's Medical Center, Northwell Health