Next Gen: Easing the Back-to-School Transition

By Susanna Barbee | Aug 06, 2014
Photo by: Donated photo Front row: Jackson Janney and Ella Janney; back row: Matt Janney and Stacey Janney

Even though the back-to-school season is a very exciting time for students, parents, and educators, this shift in the family routine can cause some children to experience stress and anxiety. To ensure the transition from summer to school is as smooth as possible, parents need to be informed and proactive.

“The back-to-school transition can be challenging for many reasons,” said Lindsay Foster, school counselor at North Canton Elementary. “Some students have never been to a preschool or away from their parents. These students have a particularly hard time the first couple of days. Their parents are also very anxious. Other students have a hard time getting back into the structure of a school day.”

It’s important for parents to begin preparing their children weeks in advance. Stacey Janney, Clyde mom to Ella, 9, and Jackson, 7, takes a number of steps to prepare her children emotionally and mentally.

“At home, we generally keep the same bedtime routine during the summer, so that’s not something they have to adjust to. Starting about a week prior to the first day, we begin going through our “before school routine” by picking out clothes the night before, having breakfast, getting dressed and brushing hair and teeth before we can play or watch cartoons,” said Janney.

The website greatschools.org offers a several suggestions to ensure everyone in the family is prepared for going back-to-school. Some of these include:

  • Refraining from traveling a week or two before the start of school
  • Arranging play dates with friends from school, especially if the child has not seen his/her school friends over the summer
  • Moving bedtime back an hour about two weeks before school starts
  • Creating a homework space
  • Discussing how the family routine will change once school starts back
  • Ensuring children are comfortable with school transportation and after-school arrangements
  • Creating a “night before to-do list” so students don’t feel rushed and stressed in the mornings
  • Putting a positive spin on going back-to-school and getting excited with children

Depending on the grade level and age of the child, some students have more trouble than others when it’s time to head back to school.

“The younger students, especially kindergartners and first graders, have the hardest time,” said Foster. “Kindergarten students who have had a preschool experience tend to do better because they have been away from their parents. First grade students are usually nervous about having a different teacher. It’s the first time they’ve had to experience this change.”

Students also experience some anxiety when the transition means changing levels (elementary to middle school or middle to high school).

Dr. Annette Husson, counselor at Waynesville Middle School, said, “The transition from elementary to middle can be challenging because students are making a big change. They are moving from one primary teacher to six middle school teachers, changing classes every 55 minutes, and dealing with lockers while trying to keep everything organized.”

To minimize the stress level, Husson suggests that, “Students and parents take advantage of all the school has to offer in transition activities.” These may include home visits, visits to the middle school when students are still in 5th grade, parent meetings, and parent/student orientation. Schools also often offer activities where students can meet their teachers and get their schedules prior to school starting.

Seeing the big yellow buses roll and hearing the bell rings can be very thrilling, and most students will feel a bit of apprehension, but if the anxiety seems to linger longer than a week or so, the counselors suggest that the parent or caregiver contact the school and meet with the counselor and teacher(s).

When parents are available to listen and supportive of any anxiety, children will feel more positive about the new school year. Taking proactive measures and making this a fun time in a child’s life will help ease stress.

“The Janney household is full of excitement when school starts back,” said Janney. “Matt and I are always prayerful when the school year begins. We pray for health, wisdom, and good friendships for both kids.”

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