Back to School: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing for the New School Year

By: Jenny Maderia, Salem Counseling Center Supervisor

It’s that time of year again, when families face the inevitable shift in schedules from the more laid back summer months to the chaotic juggling of early morning starts, homework, and extracurricular activities. The start of a new school year is a big transition for families, and this adjustment period can come with some added stress. Whether this is your child’s first year or you’re a “back-to-school” seasoned veteran, the stress of a new year can be overwhelming. But there are ways to reduce this stress and ease into the school year for both you and your children.

Here are 10 ways to get back in the swing of things and prepare for the new year ahead.

1. Get Some Rest: Whether your child is 4 or 16, a good night’s sleep goes a long way. Getting enough sleep will improve your child’s mood and ability to concentrate during those long school days.  A consistent bedtime routine helps children stay on the right track with their sleep patterns, but it can take a few weeks to adjust. Before school begins, start implementing your back-to-school bedtime routine.  Keep in mind that school-aged children need about 9 to 11 hours of sleep to feel well-rested and teens should sleep anywhere from 8 to 10 hours.

2. Eat Balanced: There is a good reason breakfast has the reputation of being the most important meal of the day. Making sure your child has a healthy, well-rounded breakfast before heading off to school will help to improve your child’s concentration and mood, creating the foundation of a successful school day. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef or have a cleared morning schedule to accomplish this goal. Have easy to grab breakfast options like some fruit or make some frozen egg muffins like this recipe here in advance for the kids to heat up and go.

3. Build Excitement: We all know kids love summer, but it’s important for kids to have a positive outlook on the year ahead. Talk to your kids about the friends they have missed this summer and what they are looking forward to most about the new school year. Another great way to build excitement is to grab the back-to-school shopping list and let the kids shop for supplies with you. A cute new backpack or lunchbox goes a long way in exciting kids about the new year.
Pro tip: You can even use this time as an opportunity to teach an older child some budgeting skills by allocating a set amount to spend on the items they need.

4. Establish an After-School Routine: Kids need routine. Predictability helps to relieve stress and maintain focus. Before school starts, sit down with your child and come up with a plan for how after-school hours will be spent. For some kids who have trouble focusing, it may be helpful to build in small breaks as a reward for staying on task. An after-school snack can be another helpful way to break up the day between school time and homework time and can provide kids the energy needed to refocus. It is also important to be clear about rules regarding free time, electronics, and toys. Set limits in regards to what tasks need to be completed before these things can be earned.

5. Get Familiar: Learn about your child’s teachers and their assignments. Arrange to meet the teacher to understand their expectations of your child and how you can help reinforce those expectations at home. Review with your child their teacher’s syllabus, as well as the school’s behavioral rules. Set rewards your child can earn for positive reports, such as extra video game time on the weekend or a one-on-one activity you can do together. There should also be consequences for when rules are broken, such as the removal of certain privileges. Allow your children to be involved in this process to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility.

6. Be Organized: For many kids, homework can feel like a daunting task. This is especially true for children transitioning into middle school and high school where the work becomes more intensive and projects can span over the course of weeks. Reduce the anxiety of those larger assignments by helping your kids get organized. Purchase a planner for your child and check it daily to make sure it is being used. Go one step further in helping your child break up those larger tasks by hanging a dry erase board on the fridge. You and your child can then jot down due dates for their assignments and create smaller target dates for completing portions of tasks. If your child has a book report due in a month, break up reading the chapters and writing the report by creating smaller assignments due throughout the span of the month. By setting dates to these goals, you show your child what you expect, while also making the task seem smaller. Let your child cross off each item as they complete it. The visual of seeing the list get smaller and smaller will help motivate your child to stay on track. Praise your child each time a task is completed for being responsible and setting realistic goals. Provide rewards if your child finishes the task earlier than the agreed upon date. These tips will keep children motivated to complete their long term goals.

7. Stay Positive: Positive praise is an essential tool in helping to build up your child’s self esteem and self confidence. When your child is struggling to understand a new concept or getting frustrated with his or her homework, try focusing on and highlighting your child’s strengths. This will help your child to see how they can get through even the toughest assignments. Praise effort towards completing a task despite frustrations, rather than focusing on the mistakes they make along the way. When you go over the work with them, start by pointing out all the things they did well. This will help your child keep an open mind when corrections need to be made.

8. Be Involved: Once kids hit their grade school years, the power and importance of their peers increases. As their social world expands, kids need help navigating this ever changing and challenging network. Keep lines of communication open by getting to know your child’s friends. Talk with your child about what healthy peer relationships are but allow them to express their views without judgement. Refraining from advice giving and lecturing during these moments will help your child feel more comfortable sharing information and seeking your help when they need it most.

9. Get Them Involved: Participation in positive extracurricular activities has many benefits. Kids can learn teamwork and social skills while also building on their self esteem. Talk to your children about what their interests are and explore ways they can expand on those interests and meet kids who share their passions. Sports, clubs, and other after school groups are great ways to keep kids on a positive track and out of trouble.

10. Make Room For Fun: With all the hard work both you and your child complete to make a school year successful, it is important to carve out some time for some good family fun. Set aside time each week for you and your children to commit to fun. Plan a game night once a week or a day on the weekend where you go somewhere together as a family. Avoid talking about school work or assignments during this time. It’s a time for both you and your children to shut work off, relax, and enjoy each other’s company. This helps model for your children a healthy work/play relationship and puts into perspective that after all the bustle of the new school year the most important thing in life is family.