by Nikki Doyle | August 22, 2017 7:39 pm
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By Dr. Lisa Bateman
As a new school year begins, the focus is often on back to school shopping, meeting the teacher, and checking off the remaining adventures on the summer bucket list. As important as it is to focus on these issues, it is equally important to ensure your child is emotionally and mentally ready to return to school.
Transition times can be challenging for children, especially for children with emotional and mental health needs, but some strategies can make these transition periods less stressful for children and parents alike, including:
One of the joys of summer is the freedom to deviate from usual routines, but this can make it challenging to return to the more structured routine of the school year. Bedtime is a routine that often varies significantly from the academic year to summertime. As school approaches, it is best to gradually return to the bedtimes and wake times needed for the school schedule. It can also be helpful to practice good “sleep hygiene” strategies prior to the return to school. For example, bedtime may be inconsistent during the summer, but research suggests that maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is one of the key ingredients to train your body to sleep well.
During the summer, exercise, eating, and napping may also all be less consistent. In the weeks leading up to the return to school, it may be helpful to eliminate daytime napping and increase daytime exercise in order to help your child fall asleep earlier. Children may also be in the habit of using electronics more frequently during the summer than during the school year, but the use of electronics in the evening can make it more difficult for children to fall asleep. As the school year approaches, consider setting a cut-off time for electronics that is at least 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime.
Decrease Worries & Anxiety
It is common even for children who do not experience clinical anxiety to experience worries about a new school year:
Will I like my teacher?
What if I don’t know anyone in my classes?
I’m nervous about being away from my family after being home with them every day in the summer.
Signs that your child might be nervous about returning to school include difficulty sleeping, an increase in behavioral outbursts, an onset or increase in nervous behaviors (e.g., nail biting, skin picking), excessive clinginess to a parent, and tearfulness. If you children seem nervous, ask them what they are worried about and work together to develop a plan. It may help to remind children that it is a common experience to feel worried at the beginning of a new school year.
Prior to the start of school, rehearsing situations that the child may be worrying about can decrease anxiety. For example, for a child who is nervous about separating from his parents to return to school, parents can find opportunities to practice this skill, such as dropping the child off at a friend’s house or having the child stay with a babysitter for gradually increasing periods of time.
Parents might also practice taking the child to the school, sitting in the parking lot, and walking around the campus before the start of school so that they child can feel more comfortable with the environment. Children who are nervous may also benefit from having a friend to meet up with during the first week to walk into school. You can also work with your child’s teacher or guidance counselor to set up a check-in system at school to make the initial transition less anxiety-provoking.
It is easier to start the school year organized than it is to get organized once the year has already begun. As your child prepares to return to school, help her select organizational materials that are easy to use.
While organizational skills come naturally to some children, many children may need instruction and modeling to learn these skills. Teach your child how to organize her materials for different subjects in folders and how to use a planner and a calendar. Help your child set up an environment at home that will be conducive to completing homework.
Work with your child to develop a plan to stay organized during the school year. For example, you might practice having your child put all materials and assignments back where they belong after homework is completed.
Establish a Morning Routine
Plan ahead and begin practicing your morning routine before school starts. Mornings can often be chaotic, with wake-up calls, breakfast, and getting ready for the day. Work with your children to develop a schedule (you may even create a visual to display in a central area in the home) for the morning, and do a practice run before school starts to see if it is realistic. If it’s not, look for areas where you can lighten the load. For example, you might engage your children in working together to pack their backpack or choose the next day’s attire after dinner the night before rather than in the morning before school.
Model Relaxation & Positive Thinking
Parents can often be sad to see the end of summer or nervous about the upcoming school year as well. Practicing self-care strategies to manage your own stress and emotion provides an excellent model for your children of how to cope with change. It may feel difficult to find time to relax and unwind during the busy back to school season, but you and your children will be grateful you did!
This is also an excellent time to set up a positive mindset about the new school year. As a new school year begins, get into the habit of identifying positives about returning to school, frequently recognizing and praising your children’s successes, and doing what you can to minimize other stressors during this transition period.
Dr. Lisa Bateman earned her Doctoral Degree in School Psychology from the University of South Florida. Dr. Bateman is a licensed Clinical Psychologist at NeuroScience, Inc. in Herndon, VA. She specializes in the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with exposure and response prevention to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as other primary anxiety disorders (e.g., social phobia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder). In addition, she has specialized treatment experience in using CBT to treat mood disorders, ADHD, and other psychological conditions. She also has specialized experience in providing Habit Reversal Training for trichotillomania, tic disorders, and other impulse control disorders.
Dr. Bateman is a certified provider of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, a behavioral parent training program with a strong evidence-base for young children with externalizing behaviors, such as anger outbursts, impulsivity, defiant behaviors, and socially inappropriate behaviors. She has experience in providing academic, behavioral, and mental health interventions in elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as providing family-based behavioral and therapeutic interventions in home-based and clinic settings.
Dr. Bateman currently works with children, adolescents, and adults and is available to help you or your loved ones. To schedule a consultation or appointment with Dr. Lisa Bateman, please call (703) 787-9090.
NeuroScience is located at 106 Elden St., Herndon, VA 20170. Learn more, including what insurances NeuroScience accepts, by connecting online, Facebook, and Twitter.
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