Back to School – How to ease the transition for your child

Back to School in scrabble letters

Back to School – How to ease the transition for your child

It is that time of the year where it is back to school! I have to admit I have many feelings about my daughter returning to school. Feeling sad, happy, fearful, proud – yes even therapists can have mixed feelings too!

The end of the summer and the return to school is a big transition. I wonder have I prepared my daughter enough for this transition? Is the whole family prepared? I feel that it is important to acknowledge that this is a big transition, and it affects everyone in the household.

As with all transitions there can be a lot of stress and discomfort. This stress can often cause us to crave control and rigidity in order to get a handle on the things going on around us. We often tell our kids or spouses what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, and that it needs to be done now! How does the stress show up in our children? Well it may show up as acting in a defiant or angry manner. This is their way of reacting to the power and control of you telling them what to do. A power struggle like this can lead to a very disrupted household.

So how can we manage this and help everyone in the family prepare for this transition? How do we meet them where they are at? Listening is the best skill that we can implement at this time. Listening to them deeply, to hear what they are saying and what they are not saying. It is important to be present to them – allowing them to feel heard and seen. If there are any worries about starting school, there is no need to fix the feelings or even understand them but just listen and validate. This helps to diffuse the power struggle and create a more balanced household.

It is important that we pay attention to our own feelings as we listen to them during this transition. We all want our children to love learning and to have kind and connected teachers. We want them to have a good social circle, and sometimes despite our wishing it doesn’t work out like that. There will be a moment when your child is going to have an experience with friends or a teacher that will be difficult to navigate. However, every single experience gives them a chance to grow. So, whatever the experience and the feelings that they are having – listen to them deeply, so they feel heard and seen, and validate their feelings. This is so much more powerful than trying to fix the problem. When your child comes home with stories from their first day of school listen and validate.

The back to school transition creates stress in every family. The best way to help bring the stress level down is by implementing a routine. I love routines, which is why I am feeling a little happy about school going back!

Routines help adults and children feel safe. When things start to feel stressful in the morning or afternoon it may be time to start a conversation with your children about routines. It’s important to co-create these routines together so that everyone feels ownership of the process. Asking children “Hey, what are you noticing about the mornings before we go to school?”. Flesh out the experience and understand what it is like for them. It is important to set up any expectations or deadlines, for example: “We have to leave at 8:30am, so what needs to happen before then”. Let the children come up with the solutions. When you have created a checklist or routine together, create a visual guide (e.g. write it out on a whiteboard) to help support them. If you create a routine you must follow through with it, and the visual checklist will help with this. Referring back to the visual can help lower the stress levels, and keep the relationship intact.

Listen to your children and your bodies to help everyone with the back to school transition.

Take care,

Sarah Harwood MA MACA

Sarah is a marriage, child and family psychotherapist, and is a Bringing Baby Home educator. She is married and is the mother of two children.