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5 Ways to Help Your Child Overcome Common Back-to-School Hurdles

Written by Sarah Alsaidi
PhD, Consultant, Researcher and Executive Functioning Specialist

From the smell of fresh crayons to the crisp edges of a new notebook, many young learners feel excitement and joy during back-to-school season. But as summer comes to an end, so do laid-back schedules and flexible routines, and your child may also experience shock and difficulty adjusting to more structured days – especially if they view the change as sudden.

Kids and adults alike may feel a range of emotions, including worry, anger, sadness, and maybe even grief if they experience these changes as loss. New expectations, demands and responsibilities could even lead to confusion or distress.

These emotional reactions are all normal and healthy as children are learning to adapt to major transitions, but it may be hard to process these feelings alone and even harder to name the emotions. This can lead to frustration and present in the form of school resistance, separation anxiety, and behavioral challenges.

Whether your child is returning to school after a long summer break, entering a classroom for the first time, or beginning the year at a completely new place, these 5 simple and easy-to-follow strategies will help ensure the smoothest transition.

Make Space to Anticipate and Process

Research shows that explaining and anticipating change with children allows for predictable experiences that help to lessen anxiety and improve safety. Our first strategy is to use communication, whether verbal or through play:

It is important to answer questions, validate emotions and remain open and positive during these conversations. In this way you can name their strengths as well as strategize with them on areas that may be more difficult.

Collaborate and Plan Together

Children feel heard and validated when they are involved in decisions and when their opinions are valued. These collaborations can create an internal compass of security with caregivers and not only models effective organizational skills but also ensures that your plans will work. You might already have a vision of what your child’s morning routine should be or what bin they will use to store their belongings, but there are small and meaningful ways that your child can help you shape those routines.

By involving them in this process, you are engaging their brain in a way that is guaranteed to improve memory and provide them with a sense of control over the changes!

Create Visuals and Make Art

Visual representations are incredibly supportive to a child who is first learning a new skill or is trying to follow a new routine.

Start Early and Introduce Gradually

Change that occurs abruptly or without time to adjust can feel jarring and confusing. It is important to start early – by introducing changes in routine gradually, you allow your child to process them at their own pace.

Practice with Mini Exposure Exercises

Children who normally have a hard time separating from their parents or caregivers may experience increased anxiety during the back-to-school season. Kids may feel nervous to be back in their classroom, worried about seeing friends or teachers, or even fearful of getting lost on the first day. Understanding your child’s specific fears and worries can help you design mini-exposure exercises to help reduce anxiety and improve familiarity.

By anticipating and addressing these fears through mini-exposures and repetition, your child can feel less anxiety and learn how to cope with nerves and worries.

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