In a matter of days, students will once again be roaming the hallways of area schools, marking the end of summer and the start of another school year.
The transition always brings a mixture of emotions and expectations; get your student off to a great start with these helpful tips.
Plan the transition around your child’s needs.
Many people think going back to school means starting to enforce an earlier bedtime; however, the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t account for individual needs. Not all children require the same amount of sleep, so tailor your changes accordingly.
“There’s a school of thought that also says to let them enjoy the last few weeks of summer,” says Kelly Olson, a licensed marriage and family therapist at The Village with 18 years of professional experience. “You need to base the transition decision on your own child.”
Make — and share — a plan.
For kids making a major transition — going to kindergarten, moving buildings, switching classrooms — parents can help by having class and bus schedules as well as school and bus stop maps printed and ready to use. Hang them where backpacks will be kept in your house to be consulted easily.
Olson recommends “practicing” the new routine with the child in advance of the first day of school so he or she will feel prepared and comfortable navigating the situation without a parent.
It’s also a good idea to walk your child through a situation where not everything goes according to plan to help reduce anxiety.
“Make sure kids know what to do if the plan fails. If they have a cellular device, who will they call?” Olson says. That’s often a reason parents take the first day of school off from work — to ensure they are available if plans go awry.
If you’ll be working with other parents to facilitate after-school travel, make sure your child knows who will be picking up or dropping off, and provide your child with that person’s contact information.
Stock your refrigerator with healthy snacks.
Going back to school means a busy schedule of activities and extracurricular activities. Parents can help things move smoothly by having healthy snacks ready for packing or grabbing on-the-go. Focus on high-quality protein and nutritious items like fresh fruits, hummus and vegetables to keep kids full from school lunch until dinner at home.
“We recommend that parents keep their refrigerator stocked with a variety of milk, cheese and yogurt products, because when you pair these foods with fresh fruit and vegetables or whole grains, you have a great nutritious snack,” says Stephanie Cundith, nutrition spokesperson at Midwest Dairy Council.
Encourage good eating habits with some fun.
Healthy snacking doesn’t have to mean boring. Get your child’s nutrition off to a great start for the year by having fun with the snacks they eat. Consider using cookie cutters to create fun cheese slices to pair with crackers or apple slices. Mix plain yogurt with their favorite fresh fruit or crunchy cereal. Buy chocolate milk instead of white milk for a boost of protein and flavor.
“Both (kinds of milk) provide 9 essential nutrients with only a small amount of sugar added to chocolate milk that doesn’t take away any of the nutritional value,” Cundith says.
Don’t shy away from meal leftovers serving as a snack for your child. A slice of pizza or half of a turkey and cheese sandwich is a great option and adds to the list of snacks available for your child to fuel their mind and body.
Expect to deal with some behavioral issues.
Parents need to prepare themselves (and their schedules) for how students will be acting during the first week of school. For students who start at the beginning of the week, they will likely be tired and cranky most evenings.
“Remember that it’s a huge transition for kids, so they are going to be exhausted and possibly exhibit some behavioral issues,” Olson says.
While the beginning of the school year often means a busier schedule, parents can reduce stress and anxiety by realizing when it’s okay to skip an event or miss part of it.
Once the school year gets underway, parents should keep an eye out for indicators that the transition may not be going smoothly. It’s possible for kids to seem to be adjusting well after a week or two, but if issues persist after a month, Olson recommends reaching out to school personnel to investigate further.
“The more you understand, the more informed you are to assist your kids in getting them the help they need,” she says.
Prep their supplies — and their attitude.
It’s not enough to just buy everything on the school supply list and call it good. Sit down with your child and open packages or organize smaller items into a pencil box. Help your child pack the bag and get it ready for the first day of school.
In addition to sharpening pencils, help children get excited about school by talking to them about what they are most excited to learn when they return to the classroom. Help them make connections between things they did over the summer and how those experiences can help them with they go back to school. Your enthusiasm about the new school year will inevitably — and positively — influence theirs.