This article originally appeared in the Aug. 12, 2010 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Whether their summer was jam-packed with exciting activities or filled with complaints that they were bored and had nothing to do, kids often have a tough time making the back-to-school transition.
As with any new or potentially unsettling situation — like starting school for the first time or entering a new grade or new school — allow your children time to adjust. Remind them that everyone feels a little nervous about the first day of school and that it will all become an everyday routine in no time.
Emphasize the positive aspects about going back to school, such as hanging out with old friends, meeting new classmates and buying cool school supplies.
“Many schools allow parents to bring their children to campus before the start of the school year, so they can find their classrooms and get comfortable with the surroundings,” says Dr. Shahida Naseer, a pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and associate professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. “The beginning of a new school year can cause anxiety for some children, but parents can help make it a fun and exciting time, too.”
Consider adjusting your own schedule to make the transition smoother. It's especially beneficial for parents to be home at the end of the school day for the first week. But many working moms and dads just don't have that flexibility. Instead, try to arrange your evenings so you can give kids as much time as they need, especially during those first few days.
To help ease back-to-school butterflies, try to transition kids into a consistent school-night routine a few weeks before school starts. Also make sure that they:
- get enough sleep (establish a reasonable bedtime several days before school starts so they'll be well-rested and ready to learn on the first day and thereafter)
- eat a healthy breakfast (they're more alert and do better in school if they eat a good breakfast every day)
- write down need-to-know information to help them remember details such as their locker combination, what time classes and lunch start and end, their homeroom and classroom numbers, teachers' and/or bus drivers' names, bus numbers, etc.
- use a wall calendar or personal planner to record when assignments are due, tests will be given, extracurricular practices and rehearsals will be held, etc.
- have them organize and set out what they need the night before (homework and books should be put in their backpacks by the front door and clothes should be laid out in their bedrooms)
Although it's normal to be anxious in any new situation, a few kids develop real physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach aches, associated with the start of school. If you're concerned that your child's worries go beyond the normal back-to-school jitters, speak with your child's doctor, teacher, or school counselor.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.