Transitioning from summer vacation to the school year can be hard for kids and parents. Adjusting schedules and juggling activities and homework is a lot to manage at one time. Child and adolescent psychiatrist with Kootenai Clinic Outpatient Psychiatry, Cory Alexander, M.D., offers these tips to make sure you’re prepared for the back-to-school hustle.
• Recognize the transition
Transitioning from summertime to school requires a big mental shift and an acknowledgement of change.
“It’s important for parents to recognize that even though kids have been home all summer, there’s still a lot of social development and other changes that have occurred,” Dr. Alexander said. “I think some parents forget that their children and their relationships are always developing, even when school’s out.”
• Establish routine
Several weeks before the first early morning alarm sounds, start working on good morning habits.
“Kids, especially teens, need to own the transition and have buy-in. Talk with them about what they think their routine will look like and start working in those habits early,” Dr. Alexander said.
• Know their weekly schedule
In addition to knowing their morning routine, parents and children should be familiar with the new weekly schedule. Knowing class schedules, sports and activity schedules, homework time and social time will help reduce stress once school starts. Planning this time ahead ensures everyone has the same expectation and respect for scheduled time.
• Connect on an emotional level
Dr. Alexander emphasizes the need to connect emotionally with your children leading up to big transitions. Providing them with several opportunities to talk and share concerns or issues they are facing will help them feel more confident.
“Keep in mind that teens are harder to connect with because they are in another, bigger transition of becoming more independent,” she said. “They may give some push-back but it’s not against you, it’s a normal part of growth and separation. My biggest suggestion is to go for a drive or do an activity together. There’s something about the car that opens up a dialogue.”
• Identify supportive people
Purposely identifying supportive people in a child’s life will give them a sense of community and safety. With your child, identify coaches, teachers, friends, teammates, or others in their school environment that have proven to be trustworthy and caring. Juggling academics and activities can feel isolating, despite being around people all the time, so knowing who your child can go to for support ahead of time alleviates that isolation.
• Support wellness and sleep
It’s well-known that kids, especially teens, need more sleep than adults. Dr. Alexander suggests having realistic conversations about sleep schedules, eating habits, and activity levels.
“Collaborate with your child and let them make their needs and expectations known and work together to create habits that fit,” she said. “When parents have anxiety over their child’s wellbeing and how they’ll do, the child picks up on that and feels anxious as well.”
• Give them space to succeed on their own
As hard as it may be, Dr. Alexander encourages parents to avoid being overly involved or controlling – to support their child in making decisions but not tell them exactly what to do.
“Yes kids thrive when they have a consistent schedule, but they have to be a part of that decision process,” she said. “At the end of the day we’re helping them to learn to be independent and make good decisions on their own. We should certainly be there for guidance and support, but allowing them to be more cognitively flexible and not try to be ‘perfect’ is healthier for them mentally in the long run.”
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Cory Alexander, M.D., is a psychiatrist with Kootenai Clinic Outpatient Psychiatry. To learn more, visit kh.org/psychiatry.