Preparing kids emotionally for school

Little boy with a "thumbs up."
Little boy with a “thumbs up.”

Whether your child is entering a new school or just a new grade, while you’re rushing to get the school supplies and the necessary health check-ups, make sure to also take time to prepare your child emotionally for what’s ahead. The following tips can help make the back-to-school transition a bit easier for everyone.

  • Add a bit of structure to ease into routines.

    After a carefree summer, the school routine can be disorienting. Try assigning your child some chores or reading daily. Introduce them to writing these assignments down in a planner or on a calendar to help them keep track.

  • Get back into firm meal and sleep/wake schedules, and other healthy habits.

    If your kids have gotten into the habit of staying up—or getting up–late, now is the time to help them ease back into a more school-friendly sleep schedule. As the countdown to school starts, wake your kids up 10 to 15 minutes earlier than the day before and shift their bedtime by the same amount of time. Serve healthy breakfasts and dinners at school-friendly times. Make sure to include daily exercise—another habit that can help kids adapt to the stress of starting school.

  • Meet the teacher together as early as possible.

    Building a relationship between your child and the teacher—sharing information about each–can reduce separation anxiety on the first day of school, especially for those entering school for the first time or changing schools.

  • Role-play responses to manage fears.

    Bullying, a new school, and not knowing anyone in their class are common worries. Talk about what your child could say and do when faced with his or her fears. Practicing coping strategies in a safe environment can help them feel less fearful. For example, your child may want to practice introducing him/herself to a new class. Let your child practice in front of you in order to ease the butterflies that may come on the first day.

  • Teach your child stress-relieving exercises that they can do when they’re feeling anxious.

    For example, introduce them to slow, deep breathing through their belly, or progressive muscle relaxation, having them tighten, then release their hands and arms.

  • Get your child excited about a new activity.

    Starting a new extracurricular activity, whether it’s band, theater, soccer, or something else, is exciting, helps kids make new friends, and eases back-to-school school jitters.

  • Arrange playdates or a back-to-school party with kids in the same grade.

    After a long summer separated from schoolmates or if they don’t have any friends at all at a new school, arranging get-togethers helps kids reconnect with old pals or meet new ones, lessening some of the anxiety. It’s also a great way for parents to reconnect or meet other parents.

If your child seems overly anxious about school, talk to your healthcare practitioner or behavioral health counselor for advice.

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