Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

New School Transitions
Making a smooth jump to the next level

by Sarah McCosham

August 01, 2013

Somehow, it’s already August, which ushers in the fifth season known as “back to school.” For kids, the return to school brings a mix of emotions: excitement at seeing their friends, anticipation for new teachers and curriculum and nervousness about what the new year will bring. On top of all this, if your child is moving up to a new school – say, preschool to kindergarten or junior high to high school, they’re likely feeling some anxiety about this change. Here are some ways to make this transition a little easier for them.

Back to school jitters

All kids, regardless of age, will feel some apprehension about that first day of school. Dr. Nerissa Bauer, Assistant Professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, says there are a few things parents can do to ensure first-day success.

“I encourage parents to do ‘mental prep’ with their kids,” she says. Visiting the school, seeing the classroom, meeting the teachers – all of these things can help a child feel more comfortable. “Involving the child in the buying of school supplies or clothes can also prepare them for the first day – and get them excited about it!” she adds.

Finally, back-to-school will bring a natural change to your child’s schedule, so it’s important to establish a new routine well before the first day. “Children thrive on routine and structure, so parents should establish routines, mentally prep children about the upcoming transition and make sure children get enough sleep” says Dr. Bauer.

Starting pre-k, kindergarten or elementary school

For young students, going to school is a completely new experience. Childhood Education and Literacy Professor Dr. Cynthia Geer says it’s important for parents to talk about what happens at school, and to paint as positive a picture as possible about the experience. “[Parents should] speak positively about school, classmates and teachers – even if their own experience was not a good one. Children are very intuitive and will feel anxious if the parent is negative about school,” she says.

In addition, there are many books available about starting school; incorporating such books into your story time routine is a good way to open up a dialogue with your child about the topic.

Junior high and high school

While your tween or teen knows the back-to-school drill by now, they may still have some nervousness about that first day. For older kids, the social aspects of school are most daunting. Explains Dr. Bauer, “As children grow older, expectations of independence and organization increase and some children can find this challenging. Bullying behavior often begins in this phase and can evolve from physical aggression to more covert actions – like shunning and social isolation. This can be a source of anxiety in junior high/high school.” She adds that parents should monitor their older kids for signs of stress and anxiety.

Above all, it’s important to help your teen feel supported during this sensitive time. In addition to offering emotional support, Dr. Geer says parents should give their children freedom (within reason) to do things such as pick out their own clothes.

Tips for parents

School can be a stressful experience for kids. The homework, the extracurricular activities, the politics – it’s a lot to manage. Dr. Geer says that parents should make sure their children know that education is a priority – and set their kids up for success at home. “Set aside a time and place for homework; make sure there’s a set routine on school days,” she says. Getting enough sleep, good nutrition, exercise and limited screen time all contribute to educational success.

Finally, avoid asking every kid’s most dreaded question: “How was your day?” Instead, ask open-ended questions that encourage a conversation with your child. “What was your favorite part about the day? How can I help you? What are you working on in Math?” Not only will you get better answers from your kids, but they will see your interest in their daily successes and challenges at their new school.