Three Keys to Successful School Transitions

The following is a guest post from Amanda of Not Just Cute:

back-to-school transitions
source: Kippster

Change can be hard. And yet as the saying goes, the only constant in life is change.

The advent of a new school year tends to be a time of momentous changes and transitions.  Whether your child is starting preschool for the first time, transferring to a new school, or simply changing grades, taking a little time to prepare for these big changes can go a long way to make for a smooth transition.

Get Familiar

Anxiety feeds off of the unknown.  The more familiarity your child finds in a new situation, the more likely he or she will feel at ease.  You can build familiarity before school starts by:

  • Playing on the school playground
  • Finding other children from the class or school and scheduling playdates
  • Attending Back to School events and Open Houses
  • Learning the name of your child’s teacher, or better yet, meeting him or her with your child
  • Knowing the policies and procedures such as dress codes, permissible items, and drop off/pick up zones

When your child knows a little bit about what to expect and what will be expected, she’ll not only experience less anxiety, but also be better prepared for successful, positive experiences.

Build a Routine

Begin early to plan and gradually implement your school day routines (particularly your morning routine as it will set the tone for the day).   A routine gives life more predictability, consistency, and flow.  It’s easier for children  to deal with change when it comes within a familiar and reliable framework.  Here are some components you may want to consider including in your routine as you plan your school days:

  • Prepare as much as you can the night before.  Errant shoes always seem to be found more quickly and choices about what to wear always seem to go more smoothly without the anxiety and rush of the morning.
  • Work to establish a consistent and adequate sleep schedule.  Individuals differ, of course, but young children generally need between ten and twelve hours of sleep.  Children who don’t get enough sleep don’t function as well at school and are more likely to crumble under the pressure of anxiety or a rushed morning routine.
  • Make sure that everyone gets a good breakfast.  (Including you!)  Everyone will function better.
  • Consider including a short activity for your family that is calming and provides focus for your family as a part of your family’s morning routine.  Perhaps a short devotional time, a song, a prayer or a recitation.  It’s something that helps to slow the pace, lessen the anxiety and just gets the day off to the right start.

Start implementing some of these routines into your day now, by making gradual adjustments to bedtime or by organizing now for back to school , for example.  Starting early helps you feel settled in a routine by the time that school bus rolls up your street, and helps you avoid making a lot of drastic changes all at once.

back-to-school transitions
source: Nima Badiey

Keep Calm and Carry On

Your own attitude about your child’s school transition is contagious.  If you are happy and excited, your child is more likely to be as well.  Similarly, if you’re worried that little Johnny’s going to have a hard time adjusting at school, your own fears may generate more for him as well.  Monitor the way you talk and act about your child’s upcoming school experience.

Remember that children come with different personalities and temperaments.  Some get excited for new experiences, while others begin to fret weeks in advance.  Be sensitive to the different reactions of your children.  Some might enjoy making a big deal out of that first day of school, but for others, talking about it too much, taking too many pictures, or generating too much excitement can make them feel uncomfortable.  Consider taking that first day picture after school or toning down your back-to-school hype for those who seem to be more anxious.

Stay tuned in to your child’s reaction as the transition progresses.  Talk with your child and really listen.  (Here are ten tips to help parents be good listeners if you could use the reminder.)

Though marketers may try to convince you that the best way to give your child a good experience at school is to buy the right backpack, shop at the right stores, or bring home clothes with the right labels, in reality, the best thing you can do is to just be there for them.  Hear them out.  Build them up.  A strong and healthy parent-child relationship is really the most important “school supply” your child needs.

What transitions are your kids dealing with this year?

Amanda Morgan is a graduate of Utah State University who holds a BA in both elementary and early childhood education and an MS in childhood development. She is a mom, educator and writer for her blog Not Just Cute, which focuses on the development of the whole child.