It’s that time of year again. Back to school! Some children love it. Some children hate it. Some children have very mixed feelings about it. It can be a tricky transition time for many and a source of a lot of anxiety. Going back to school has so many moving parts for even adults to manage and think through let alone the kids! What class will my child be in? Will he know anyone in the class? Do we have everything from the supply list? Do any clothes from last year still fit? How many more outfits will we need? The list goes on….
With so many parts and steps involved, this can be confusing and overwhelming to many children. Here are some tips on how we as parents and caregivers can support our children so they can feel calm, comfort, confident, (and hopefully excited!) as they enter the new school year.
Refamiliarize your child with the environment
Try walking or driving by your school. Point out where they will walk in and where you will pick them up. Or if they take the bus, remind them of where the bus stop is, and where they get on the bus in the afternoon.
Refamiliarize your child with names and faces
Pull out the yearbook, pictures or any fun items you have from last school year. This will help your child remember different names and faces. When looking at pictures, remind your child about all the fun times they had last year and all they have to look forward to.
Children love to play out lived experiences. It helps them learn and understand their world, express feelings, and practice skills. Pretend play school! There are all kinds of scenarios to try! Here are a few ideas that could match well with your child’s Social Emotional Personality, but also try to follow their lead and interests and see where the play may take you!
To learn more about Sensory Emotional Personalities and which one best matches your child, see Our Model.
- Anxious yet Deeply Feeling: These children benefit from feeling in control and protected. Build a fort or structure where your child can play inside and feel comforted by the enclosed space. Bring inside various dolls or stuffed animals to try out some caretaking play. Get the characters ready for school by dressing them up, feeding them, and packing up their things for their first day of school. Is the little character feeling afraid or nervous for the first day or maybe they even have a boo boo? Not to worry, you child can fix this with their magic wand or using their doctor kit to make everything all better with a bandaid. Point out to your child how they saved the day and now the characters can make it to school! Also try reframing experiences as fun. Perhaps mention how you thought it might be scary to meet the teacher at school orientation, but it was actually really fun! Or playfully say, I wasn’t expecting the noise when the school bus beeped the horn, what a great surprise! For very young children, find out if they are allowed to bring a comfort stuffed animal to school.
- Unaware yet Deep Thinker: This Sensory Emotional Personality really benefits from big movement experiences! When reenacting going to school in play, try building and creating an obstacle course all the way to the door of the “school.” Or you could try road construction and building a road all the way to the school too. Perhaps it’s a mystery of how to get to school…create a pretend expedition with a treasure at the end when you finally find the school! Use items like pillows, cushions, paper towel rolls, laundry baskets, and cardboard boxes. Also add movements like stomping, spinning, jumping, and rolling to make it a very dynamic and animated experience for everyone!
- Needy yet Compassionate: This Sensory Emotional Personality benefits from feeling powerful, brave, helpful, and strong. Create a scenario where the student gets stuck behind something and they can’t get to school. Your superhero will save the day by pushing, pulling, and carrying heavy items out of the way so they can be on their way to school! Also, there is a villain that won’t let the student get to school… your superhero can save the day again by stomping out that bad guy, making them feel very brave and powerful.
- Unsettled yet Intentional and Passionate (Dyspraxia): Children with dyspraxia or motor planning challenges benefit from reenacting things they’ve experienced or playing through something that will happen. This is a great time to play pretend school and recreate something they have done in the classroom or something new they will try this year, especially any activity with multiple steps. You could take turns being the teacher and the student! Pretend doing the drop off and pick up. Perhaps setup a pretend school using a real table and chairs or pretend versions with pillows or blankets to sit on. Follow their lead and practice doing something they really like from school. If they’re not sure, give a couple choices like story time, a craft activity, or snack time. There are multiple steps to these ideas, so if you choose to play snack time your child may need you to say “first we open the lunch box to pull out the snack then let’s open it up”. When it’s your turn to pretend to be the student, express some feelings of being nervous or missing home and see how your child reacts as pretending to be the teacher. They may have a coping strategy in mind for you!
Get your child involved in the process
Many times as parents and caregivers, we are making a lot of the decisions and choices for the child. When it comes to the first day of school, allowing your children to be involved in making decisions for themselves can bring a feeling of control, comfort, and confidence.
- Clothing/gear/ backpack: Provide some choices for them to pick from for the first day of school. Something comfortable, along with being their favorite character or style can go a long way with their confidence. Picking out the items in advance or the night before can be very helpful so they know what to expect.
- Food: Let them help pick out their snack or lunch foods. They may even like to help prepare it. Perhaps it can be something they look forward to like using a new water bottle or a smoothie drink with their favorite character on it. You could even write a special note or draw them a picture that they can look forward to looking at.
Make mornings happier with movement!
Some children need movement in the morning to wake up their bodies and to think clearly. Perhaps let them help walk the dog, listen to fun music and quick dance party while getting ready, or try playing a game of catch at the bus stop.
Normalize feelings of anxiety
Let your child know that a lot of people get nervous when they are about to do something new, even your Mom too!
Transitioning back to school is a process and can often take longer than we think it should. Try your best to have patience and keep trying. Your little person will thank you for it!