I’ll be the first to admit, I start twitching when I see back-to-school store displays in July. It just seems wrong– kids (and parents!) have barely just started enjoying summer vacation and are bombarded with reminders of the end of summer freedom. Personally, I’m in favor of the post-Labor Day start of school, but I digress. How can parents make it a gentler transition and feel less overwhelmed? Consider these strategies beginning 2 weeks prior to the start of school:
- Start adjusting bedtimes gradually. The kids have probably been enjoying staying up late and sleeping in for the past several weeks. Adjusting sleep and wake times by even 1 hour can make a difference in the crankiness factor. This can help adults, too!
- Resume structured mealtimes. It’s easy to slip into random meal times during the summer. Try incorporating meal times closer to the school day schedule. If you’re short on time, meal assembly stores are a great way to purchase and prepare meals in advance.
- Designate some indoor time each day. The transition from play to work can be hard. You can help get your children’s mindset ready for homework by having some down time each day where they do a little reading, drawing or play board games.
- Avoid overcommitting the kids’ (or family) schedule. Kids don’t have a built-in method of managing their time. In a child’s mind, the ideal day would probably consist of video games, TV/movies, more video games, pizza, playing with friends—then repeat! The sense of overload is equally strong during the school year. Parents can feel like they’re running one endless shuttle service to kids’ activities. Now is the time to get honest about which activities are truly important to your kids; which ones they enjoy and thrive in. This might also mean turning down a party invitation or two, if the end result is less stress and fatigue for you and your child.
- Pay close attention to your school‘s supply checklist. Who remembers the embarrassment in elementary school of showing up with the wrong items? I know I do. Stick to the list to avoid hassle and keep receipts for easy returns/exchanges.
- Designate a communication area for important information. This can be the refrigerator, a basket or bin in a corner of the family room, whatever is convenient for you. Make sure the kids know where to leave permission slips and other important forms.
- Review the school calendar with the kids. Make a note of back-to-school night and other special events. Remind everyone of times to be in bed/lights out. Share realistic expectations about grades based on your child’s aptitude. Have a plan for getting extra help in the areas where your child has struggled in the past. Commit to having 3-4 nights at home together as a family. Mark off future breaks and vacations on the calendar; this will give the kids something to look forward to!
- Have a family meeting once a week if possible, throughout the school year. This is a great time to give your kids a chance to share the best and worst part of their week. Talk about what’s coming up.
- Consider an “end of summer” party. This can help the transition feel like something to look forward to, rather than something to dread. This doesn’t have to be elaborate or cost a lot of money. A backyard or indoor picnic brings everyone together and works just fine!
What are some of your best strategies for easing the transition? Please share your ideas here so other parents may benefit.
This article is intended for general education purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please call The Stone Foundation at 410-296-2004.
Elicia McIntyre, a licensed clinical social worker, and graduate of Smith College School for Social Work, has 15 years’ experience providing counseling to adults, children and families in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. She has helped clients navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties. Elicia helps couples increase emotional intimacy, and foster healthy connections among family members. She has spent the past 3 years traveling nationally and overseas, providing education and intervention to military service members and their families on communication, stress management and building healthy relationships.