Articles of Interest

Helping Your Child Ease Back Into the School Swing

By Vanessa Hari, MA, Psychotherapist

Easing your child back into the swing of their new school schedule can be a challenge for many parents, especially for parents with children with special needs. However, with some planning and practice, it can be an opportunity to model skills that will help your child have a smooth transition.

Research now shows that children will lose two-and-a-half months’ worth of reading skills over the summer (Hernandez, 2011, p.3). According to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “one in six children who are not reading proficiently in 3rd grade do not graduate high school on time” (Hernandez, 2011, p.3). Research shows these findings especially impact children who come from lower economic status (Hernandez, 2011, p.3). Therefore, planning for the upcoming school year can start in the summer months. You can utilize your community library to help facilitate reading during the summer months. Additionally, you can find cheap books at yard sales and secondhand stores to help keep the costs down.

As the end of the summer comes closer, there are some things you can do to help lessen the stress your children might be feeling about the upcoming new school year. A week or two prior to school starting, you can start preparing for the school routine by changing your child’s bedtime to what time he/she would go to bed during the school year. Additionally, you can set up play dates with familiar school friends. This can help alleviate anxiety by reminding your child that they are not the only one feeling stress by transitioning back to school.

If your child has challenges with separating from you, especially for those entering kindergarten and preschool, parents can set up a reward chart and reward their child for attending school. Additionally, you can read stories like The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, Owen and Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes, and I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas. These books can be used as social story and can help calm worries that accompany the transition to kindergarten and preschool.

Parents of elementary school-age children can contact their child’s teacher 3-5 days prior to the new school year beginning and ask for the first day’s schedule. Once the schedule is provided, parents can make a visual schedule. The schedule does not have to long, but it should include items like getting dressed, catching the school bus, etc. Laminating the visual schedule is recommended as well as attaching an expo marker to it, so that your child can check off the items as the day progresses. This can help calm any anxieties about what will be happening throughout the day. Additionally, for children who have challenges with noise levels and activity levels, you can include relevant details in their visual schedules.

One to stwo days prior to the first day of school, you can contact your child’s teacher or school administrative staff to see if your child can visit the school. This can be particularly helpful for students entering kindergarten, middle school, and high school because these times are especially difficult for most students. By visiting the school before other students are present, your child can learn the school layout, how to navigate moving from one class to the next, and how to open his/her locker. I would also suggest emailing the teacher to introduce yourself and your child. This email can help your child’s teacher understand any challenges that your child has and help build an alliance with the teacher. This is especially important for children who have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or 504 plan (an educational plan that gives students with disabilities individualized help) because their teacher will be a part of their treatment team, which can impact the amount of services provided for these students.

Finally, the transition back to school is something all parents have personally experienced. Therefore, you can validate your child’s anxieties by acknowledging that, like with any new activity, starting a new routine can be hard but, over time, becomes easier and more predictable.

Hernandez, D.J. (2011) Double jeopardy; How third-grade reading skills and poverty influence high school graduation. Baltimore: Annie E. Casey Foundation.