The bleating alarm on the first day of school can put a dramatic halt to the end of summer vacation. In an instant, the late nights, sleepovers and days spent playing on the beach are replaced with early mornings, lunches to pack, carpools to navigate and piles of homework.
And while heading back to school is certainly filled with change — for kids and parents alike — there are ways to minimize the moaning, stop the stressing and savor the last few days of break.
“I think the No. 1 thing is starting to get back into the routine, especially a sleep routine,” says Marisa Nava, a Daniel Island-based
licensed clinical psychologist who works with children and families. “A lot of kids get off of that over the summer.”
A few weeks before the start of school, start reigning in bedtimes,
rolling them back a few minutes every night until kids are at their
school-year bedtime. Children who attended camp throughout the summer might be used to the early mornings, but those who have been sleeping in should start rising and shining earlier, too.
Nava suggests giving those last mornings of vacation some structure, to get everyone accustomed to being on a routine. If the kids have lingering summer assignments, set aside the same time every day to chip away on the projects. They could also spend a little time daily brushing up on their challenging subjects in school.
It doesn't have to be all math packets and chapter books, though. While it might be “easier to just put on a bathing suit,” said Nava, kids who are up, dressed and ready for action can make the most of their time by ticking off vacation bucket list items or spending time with friends they won't see during the school year.
West Ashley mom April Lee puts the emphasis on the positive with her kids: the final weeks of summer mean getting to spend lots of time together as a big, blended family and getting everyone excited for all that the fall brings, like the chance to make new friends and learn about teamwork by playing sports. (Lee also sticks to reasonable bedtimes even when school's not in session because “it's easier than fighting about it during the end of summer.”)
“Kids pick up so much on how parents react and respond,” Nava said, noting the importance of staying upbeat about the annual march back to the classroom. “It's tough to transition from a time when you're more laidback. It's nice not having to rush in the mornings. But going back to school should be a positive thing, so focus on the good aspects.”
Although autumn can bring a windfall of great shifts for little ones (like the structure and routine kids often thrive in), like many moms, Lee worries about the unknowns her children might face in the classroom.
Bullying is a big one, but the litany of changes that come with fall can bring a new batch of concerns. What will happen on the bus this year? What if my son doesn't click with his new teacher? My daughter is young for her grade—what will the other kids say to her?
To ease the transition for kids who are anxious about the unknown in the upcoming year, Nava suggests getting as much information as possible ahead of time. See if you can take them on a tour of the school or visit their classroom, attend an open house to meet the teachers and discuss a plan of action with your child, in case something does happen.
If your child is anxious about bullies, for example, identify who she can talk to in the school if it becomes a problem. Remind her she can turn to adults like her teacher, the guidance counselor and you, no matter what. Simply reassuring children they don't have to handle problems alone can be a reassurance.
Pointing out all the amazing things that can come from the school year can be a boon as well. Perhaps the new building has a cool playground or a favorite teacher will be just a few doors down or good friends will be in the same class.
Getting split up from friends is often a disappointment when class lists are released, but try reminding kids their successes with making pals in the past and that those seemingly-faraway friends can come over on the weekends. And for those younger kids who are heading into the classroom sans sandbox buds? Alyssa M. Revuelta, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Mt. Pleasant, suggests looking at the class list, seeing if there are any familiar names and “setting up a play date to help ease some of the anxiety.”
Consider inviting a couple children and their moms to said date to expand both circles from the start. The practice is actually twofold—it lets the kids meet and play with their classmates and allows the moms to start bonding with the parents they'll be seeing all year.
Feeling connected is one way to put the mind at ease, which is part of the reason bad communication from the school administration or situations that are in flux (like swing schools) can make parents feel on edge.
Jessica Becker, a mom in West Ashley, has an 8-year-old who is currently being bussed to a swing campus while their nearby magnet school is under construction. The staff is the same, her son loves the school and she said, overall, she “can't complain.”
“While we're excited by the prospect of a new school, I feel removed as a parent due to busing,” she said, adding that she used to interact with other parents, teachers and students when she dropped her son off at the local facility, making them all feel more connected. “We miss our school being so close by.”
Revuelta says visiting the building, even when school is in session, can assist parents in getting accustomed to transient-feeling situations. It won't cut down the time kids spend on the bus, but it can establish the sense that “this is where my child is” and allow everyone to get comfortable with that idea. Networking with other parents, making appearances in the classroom when appropriate and learning the resources the school offers can all help during times of fluctuation or when kids are just starting out in a new setting.
Ultimately, going back to school is all about, well, school, which can bring a host of emotions and reactions from each and every child. Revuelta notes the importance of open dialogue during this time, like checking in with kids to see if they're nervous about their classes being harder or too much homework.
And for parents who are worried about all the pressure kids face at school, spend the first few weeks gauging if the intensity is coming from the teachers or the environment at the school or if your child is ratcheting up the stress herself (never, ever asking for help, feeling like every single task has to be absolutely perfect). Communicating with teachers to make sure the expectations are realistic can also help suss this out.
Revuelta also mentioned the importance of letting kids know it's OK to ask for assistance when they need it.
“You want them to do well, but you want them to know they can seek help,” she said. “That's a strength. If you know how to seek support, that's a sign of success.”