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Help Your Kids Transition Back to School

Whether we want them to or not, kids keep growing up. Each fall, they head back to school and wonder which teacher they’ll get, whether their friends will be in their class and what the new school year will be like. And we wonder, and often worry, right along with them. The transitions that produce the most anxiety are the ones that involve beginning at a new school, which happens when a child enters kindergarten, middle school or high school.

Here are a few ways you can help make this transition as seamless as possible for your children.

Tell the story beforehand. Much of the anxiety kids experience in new situations has to do with the fear of the unknown. So find a way to help them imagine and understand what school will be like when they get there. For older kids, this may mean simply walking through the class schedule and spending a few minutes with a map of the campus.

For younger kids, help them make a book. It can be fun to go to the school and take photographs—of the playground, of the classrooms, of the bathrooms—and create a book out of the photos. Use construction paper, iBooks, whatever. Just give your child the facts about the school and what will happen during the day. Then end the book with a message of strength and comfort. This will help your child feel empowered and more familiar before school even begins.

RELATED: Building Classroom Confidence

Visit the school. For kids of all ages, visiting the school and doing something fun on campus before classes begin is a great way to start making positive associations with the actual physical location. If the school allows access to its grounds, enjoy a family picnic near the carpool circle. Doing something silly, such as playing hide-and-seek on campus, can be a really fun way to get familiar with the ins and outs of the school.

Make a connection. Having a friend—or even just knowing someone at the school—can do a lot to ease a child’s transition. Often, kids are most worried about who will sit with them, but also whom they can hang out with and go to for questions. Having someone to struggle with them or can help them will make everything feel less daunting.

If your child has a friend who also will be starting at the school for the first time, consider carpooling or meeting before the first day so neither child has to face the situation alone. Or, if your child is entering a completely new school, do what you can to meet another parent from that school and set up times to get the kids together before classes begin.

Manage your own anxiety. Keep your own worries and fears in check. Kids will feel much more uncertain if they are picking up on your anxiety. Keep in mind, too, that what your child is worrying about may not be at all what you think it is. So don’t make assumptions about the cause for any anxiety you’re sensing. Instead, approach questions about school with curiosity, and then listen. If your child is worried at all, it might be about something you haven’t thought about that you can easily solve.

Be present with your child. Finally, remember that while you can help problem-solve and come up with ideas to help make the transition easier for your child, your most important job is to be there as a source of safety and support as they work through this transition. This may mean listening and holding at the end of a difficult day. But even if it’s a bit of a struggle, with your nurturing they can build resilience and independence that will allow them to deal with bigger transitions in the future.

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