Going back to school after summer vacation can be a tough time for children and their parents. Luckily, there are simple steps that can make the transition smooth for the whole family.

How can I calm my child’s back-to-school butterflies?

Going back to school can be a confusing and unsetting experience for children, especially if your child is starting at a new school or entering a new grade. Remind your child that while going back to school can be scary, it’s also an opportunity to reconnect with old friends or make new friends, to join a new sports team or get involved with a new hobby, and to show off any new clothes or a cool new haircut. Plus, back to school shopping and school supplies are an exciting part of the process.

It can also be helpful for your children to talk about what’s making them feel nervous or excited.  Are they worried about making new friends? Stressed about the classes they are taking or homework? Listen to your children’s concerns and reassure them that everyone feels a little anxiety about the first day of school.

Some parents consider adjusting their own schedules to ease the transition for their back-to-school student. If you’re able to rearrange for the first week of school, some children feel more comfortable being dropped off or picked up from school instead of taking the school bus during the first week of school. Some kids would love to be accompanied to the bus stop on their first day riding the bus. If you can’t rearrange your schedule, try to clear your evenings so you can give your child the time and reassurance they need, especially during those first few days.

Some simple steps for alleviating the back-to-school butterflies include:

  • Start a consistent school-night routine a couple weeks before school starts. This will help children transition out of their summer routine and back into the expectations of the school year.
  • Establish (and stick to) a reasonable bedtime. A good night’s sleep is essential to starting the first day of school off right.
  • Prepare a healthy breakfast before the first day of school. 
  • Encourage your child to make a cheat-sheet of important information, including class times and classroom numbers, bus numbers, school schedule and locker combinations.
  • Encourage your child to stay organized with a central calendar or planner for storing all assignments, test dates and extracurricular meetings and events.
  • The night before the first day of school, help your child back their backpack with school supplies and textbooks, and decide on a back to school outfit.

“Many children experience back-to-school jitters, but some children develop symptoms of back to school anxiety including headaches, stomachaches and panic reactions to unexpected changes in their routine,” said Sarah Pilarowski, MD, pediatrician at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. “Don’t downplay your child’s experience, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a doctor, teacher or guidance counselor to help your child feel comfortable and confident on the first day.”

The Back-to-School Checklist for Parents

To help make going to school a little easier on everyone, here's a checklist of things to consider:

What to Wear and Pack:

  • Be sure you’re familiar with the school dress code. Help your child pick out and set aside a back to school outfit the night before the first day of school.
  • Make sure your child packs the appropriate outfits for gym class or art class, if necessary.
  • You and your child should decide whether to buy a school lunch or to pack a lunch each day. Either way, help your child feel empowered to make healthy lunch decisions.
  • Your child will need a comfortable backpack, stocked up with all the necessary school supplies including pens, pencils, folders and textbooks.

Medical Concerns:

  • Before the first day of school, it’s important to be sure your children have received all their back to school immunizations. Most schools won’t enroll your child without proof of immunizations.
  • It’s also important to fill out school forms, including emergency contact, allergies, prescription medications and health forms, so the school has information on your child’s medical information and knows how to contact you with questions.
  • If your child needs to take medications or manage any medical conditions during the school day, contact the nurse to learn the expectations and procedures of the school.
  • Talk to your child’s teachers about any conditions that may affect how your child learns, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia.

Transportation and Safety:

  • Make a plan to get your children to and from school. Decide whether they will ride the bus, get a ride with a neighbor, walk or ride their bike to and from school. Go over the details with them so they know what to expect.
  • Talk to your child about traffic safety information, including looking both ways before crossing the street, always crossing at the crosswalk, and understanding traffic signals and signs.
  • Make sure your child knows the importance of never accepting a ride from a stranger.

What are the options for after-school care?

Another important consideration with the approaching school year is deciding how your children will spend their time after school. Each child’s age, maturity and interests will determine whether an after-school program, extracurricular activity or after-school transportation is necessary.

Many children participate in after-school activities, including sports teams, academic clubs or study groups. If you’re seeking an after-school program for your child, you can consider programs run by the school themselves, by private businesses, YMCAs, community centers, places of worship and more. There are many advantages of these programs, including:

  • Your child will have another opportunity to make friends and connections with classmates.
  • After-school programs offer a productive alternative to watching television.
  • Children will have adult supervision until their parents are available to watch them.
  • Kids can develop new hobbies and interests through after-school activities.

While there are many advantages of after-school activities, some families choose for their children to come home after school. Especially for families with two parents who work outside of the home, it’s important to consider your child’s maturity level and determine whether they’re ready to be home alone in the afternoons. If your child does come home after school, establish rules:

  • Help your children understand whether they’re supposed to come straight home after school, and what time they’re expected to arrive.
  • If possible, ask a friend, relative or neighbor to check in with your children and offer assistance if they need help before you’re home from work.
  • Establish rules about who is allowed in your home when you’re not there, and make sure your child knows not to open the door for strangers.
  • Develop an emergency plan and emergency contact information for your child.

How do I handle the return of homework?

During the back-to-school transition, you can’t forget about the all-important homework your child will be bringing home each day. In order to help kids get ready for the return to study time:

  • Your child will need a quiet place to do homework without distractions.
  • Limit the amount of time your child can watch TV, play video games, or be on social media during weeknights. And always make sure homework is finished first.
  • It’s okay to offer to answer questions or help explain a homework question, but you should never do your child’s homework. Instead, encourage your child to learn the material themselves.
  • Encourage kids to develop study habits that work for them. Keep in mind there is not one correct way to learn.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

“While going back to school can be a difficult transition, remind your child that school should be fun,” says Dr. Pilarowski. “If you emphasize the best parts of going back to school, you can help your children develop healthy and positive expectations for their first day. Make sure they know you’re here to support them, and encourage them to have fun and embrace their time in school.”

To learn more about the steps to a successful first day of school, or to schedule appointments for immunizations and back-to-school care, please call Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children at 720-754-1000.