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Back to School Stress

The last days of summer vacation can trigger excitement as well as anxiety about the upcoming school year for both students and their families. While new teachers, new classrooms, new classmates, and possibly, for some, an entirely new school can be viewed as exciting challenges and opportunities for growth, some students may initially feel nervous. Below are some ideas on how to help make the transition to school this fall move smoothly for both students and their families.

Supporting your Student’s Learning Now and Throughout the Year
Support the learning environment. This fall, teachers will be spending time helping students adjust to their new classroom, surroundings, or grade expectations to ensure everyone has a positive and productive year. Families too, can support these efforts by familiarizing themselves with many aspects of the school environment such as rules, routines, and grade level expectations. Talk to your student about the school or classroom rules and routines, as well as the excitement of making new friends. Listening to your child’s story about how they experience the school day is an important way to discover how they think and approach learning. If you anticipate upcoming challenges your student may experience, it’s important to contact the teacher early in the year to discuss ways to support your child’s success.

Getting back to basics – the school year routine! Enough cannot be said about a predictable schedule for young preschool and elementary school children. Returning to the ‘fall schedule’ may be initially difficult, but starting early will help students get their “game on” for the new school year. Avoid waiting until the night before school to “get back into the fall” sleep schedule. Instead, try to stave off possible delays or problems by giving your family a head start. At least one week before school starts, try to get ready for bed 15 to 20 minutes earlier each evening, until you reach your target hour. During the year, getting up early can also avoid the stressful “missing the bus and being late in rush hour.” Starting early can make for a relaxed and comfortable start to the day for you, your family, and your student!

Let’s Talk! Talk to your child about worries, fears, or concerns they may have about the upcoming school year. Attempt to reframe these worries into “excitement, discovery, and challenges” that you can both work through. By anticipating or predicting “sticky” spots, you can help your student increase their ability to cope with uneasy or stressful social situations. Talk to your child about what they can do and find a way to build on their strengths. Ask your child what their hopes or goals are for the year. What are some responsibilities they would like to take on around the house? What do they expect from themselves in the classroom? How might they do that?

Look to the future. Once school is underway, providing your student with something to look forward to during the year can help ease much of the ‘humdrum” that can set in during the year. Having something to look forward too, such as a school event, a classroom activity, as well as a school break or holiday can serve as pick-me-ups and motivators throughout the year. For example, celebrating the end of the first month of the school year, and anticipating the next holiday (e.g., Halloween, or Thanksgiving break) can help break up the year and help students keep with the passage of time.

Acknowledge neutral and positive behavior to get the best from your student. Rely on positive reinforcement to get your child excited about learning again. Focus on what you want your child to be doing  – not what you don’t want them to be doing. For example, praise or acknowledge your child after putting their shoes away, or getting a book out to read instead of chiding them for not putting their things away or doing their work. Be as specific as you can when you recognize your child doing something well instead of offering global praise, for example, “It looks like you were concentrating really hard on getting your spelling list out and starting your school work – you didn’t even need me to remind you! That’s great! How did you do that?” Acknowledging your student helps them to capitalize on the feelings it brings to them when they do something (e.g., how did it feel to get this all done?). Try to use external rewards like trinkets, treats, or other material rewards sparingly. This may help to avoid students relying on something outside of themselves to get them motivated to do something they might otherwise find interesting, challenging, or somewhat enjoyable. Ask your child what might be interesting or challenging about a seemingly boring or difficult task, and reinforce their effort and motivation to preserve even when it does get less interesting. Listen to how they are thinking about the task and what helped them get through it.

Fake it until they make it. Homework may not be your idea of fun but getting excited about doing homework may be an important motivator to your child. Show enthusiasm for what they are learning…even if you can’t recognize the math! Model curiosity, inquisitiveness, and excitement about what they are doing in school and bringing home.

Seek balance. Families and their students can get caught up in the activities and events of the year, but remember to help your family maintain a healthy balance of work and play along with family time.

Staying healthy and limiting TV, online time, and gaming. Several Michigan schools have made significant changes in their dietary offerings in the school meal selection, from fried foods to baked, and offering greater choice and variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Families too, can encourage healthier food choices by giving kids healthy foods in funny shapes or having kids pick out at least one veggie or fruit to pack for lunch. Encourage physical activity –  walks, outdoor play, or supervised play in parks. Avoid too much TV, video games, and computer time, which can have negative influences on your student’s learning and development. Encourage their use sparingly and get to know what your kids are watching on TV, doing on the computer, and playing on the game station.

More on Getting Back to School – There are several websites devoted to Back to School topics and school readiness for young children. Below is a list of resources and research reports on school readiness posted by the National Council on Family Relations, a national organization dedicated to research and practice for family life development.

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