Easing back-to-school transitions

It is hard to believe summer is over and children are already heading back to school. If your family is like ours, the summer was a time to enjoy a more relaxed routine – later bedtimes, sleeping in, and maybe a few extra trips to the yogurt store. Whether your child is starting a new school or entering a new class, this can be an adjustment for everyone. Sometimes we parents have a harder time with the change than our children do, but it is important to set a positive tone. These new experiences can be stressful and even make some children anxious. Here are some tips our family has tried to help make those back to school transitions a little smoother for the whole family.

Communicate: No matter how big or small the transition, it will be easier for your children if you spend some time talking to them about it. Try to view the situation from their perspective and create an open dialog. Our children always do better when they know what to expect, so we make sure to walk them through what the new daily schedule will include. Reassure your child that you and their teachers are there to help.

During the first few weeks, it helps to carve out some dedicated time to talk about your children’s day, whether in the car or around the dinner table. This helps ease their fears and lets them know you are interested in their day. I remember my daughter’s first few weeks of preschool – the only thing I heard about was what she ate for a snack. As time went on, slowly I heard more about her new experiences, friends and teachers.

Plan ahead: Even as adults, it takes us a bit of time to adjust to a new schedule. Our children, just like us, will do better if they are well rested. Getting enough sleep is an important part of any successful transition. A few days before school starts, try gradually going to bed a little earlier every night and getting up a little earlier in the morning (if you are lucky enough to have children that like to sleep in). Getting everyone up, dressed, fed, and out the door can be challenge, so allow extra time. We set out clothes and pack lunches the night before. Depending on the age of your children, having them help pick out their clothes and help pack a lunch is a great way to get them involved.

Be positive: It is perfectly normal that we parents feel a bit anxious also. We may be worried about how our children will fit in or feel sad they are growing up so fast, but these feelings can rub off on our children. Try to be positive when talking to them or saying goodbye on the first day – you do not want to put a damper on their big day.

Make the change a positive one by creating a fun family tradition around the first day of school – go out for ice cream or make a special dinner. In Germany, the first day of school is marked with the custom of the “Schultuete,” a cone filled with pencils, crayons, stickers, and maybe a few sweets. Since my mother-in-law is German, we started this with our children, and it adds a special element to the first day.

Slow down: Allow time for your children to adjust. The new school year and schedule will be a big enough adjustment without adding extra activities. After all, it is you who will pay the price if your child is overtired. A few weeks into the new school year, assess how your child is doing and then see if they can handle adding on an activity. We noticed it is really important for our children to have some down time with no scheduled activities. This gives the children and the parents a chance to slow down, since we sometimes forget all the driving associated with school and after-school activities.

A new school year brings lots of changes for your children. They will grow physically, emotionally and academically. Embrace the change, marvel in their successes, and have a wonderful school year.

Liz Farrell lives in San Francisco and is the mother of two young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. E-mail: