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Smoothing the Start of the School Year

by on Aug.10, 2010, under Discipline, Parenting, School, Transitions

It’s August…three, four, even five more weeks of summer vacation depending upon your child’s first day of school. Summer time and the livin’ is (still) easy!

Even though the consistent, routinized school year schedule actually makes life easier for most children and parents, getting back into the swing of things can be a real challenge.  There are so many adjustments to be made from the more carefree summer life to the hurry-up-we’re-going-to-be-late-school year.

A mindful transition from summer to the school year, done gradually and purposefully before school actually starts, will go a long way towards smoothing that transition.

Here are some tips for starting the school year off smoothly:

  • Mind your attitude. Not all children are excited about the start of school, but a positive attitude can be contagious.  Instead of saying things like, “Your teacher won’t allow that kind of behavior in school” try being positive by saying, “I know your teacher will be so excited to hear all about our trip to the mountains.”  Help the older child to get fired up about what he might learn this school year. “This is  the year that you get to study astronomy. I can’t wait for you to teach me about the stars.”
  • Introduce your child’s school night bedtime before school starts. School age children need 9 to 11 hours of sleep, and while they get that during the summer, it usually starts later than is good for a school night. Seven days before the start of school, begin bedtime 15 minutes earlier.  Each night take it back a few more minutes, until you get to the desired bed time.  Children should awaken naturally in the morning if they are getting enough sleep.
  • Introduce your school night routine at the same time, a full week before the actual start of school. While you may have allowed TV or tech time before bed in the summer, it may not be a great way to get your child calm and ready for bed on a school night.  Go back to your routine of bath/shower, books, and tuck time. Get back to your low key rituals that include an intimate bed time chat, downloading his day.
  • Adjust your morning routine. A week before school begins, introduce the school morning routine. A sure fire way to start the morning out right—without fights about clothing and the like—is to follow this schedule:
  1. Snuggle time (Hopefully even your older kids still crave it!)
  2. Get dressed (Beginning at 4 years old, children choose their own clothing,  hopefully laying them out the night before.)
  3. Eat breakfast, but only after he is fully dressed. (If you are worried that he will get his school clothes dirty, throw on one of your old tee shirts over his clothes.)
  4. Brush teeth.
  5. Bonus time! (a few minutes on the computer, a quick game of Uno!)
  • Designate and make ready a homework place. For even the most reluctant child, there’s nothing quite like new school supplies. (Remember?!)  After you have shopped with your child, decide with him where he will do his homework. Not only should he have his notebook supplies, but also he can feather his homework nest. The more involved he is, the more willing he will be to settle down and get to work.

When the school year begins…

  • Create routines. Whether it’s the way your child helps you make lunches, when and where he does his homework, or when he does his chores, routines help the child to stay on track.
  • Have rules. Each family will have a different idea about tv during the week, computer and tech time, etc… Have a family meeting to discuss your ideas. Be sure to solicit your child’s opinion, and compromise where you can. Children who are involved in the rule making are more likely to stick to them.
  • Do as much as you can do the night before. Help your child lay out his clothes (if necessary); set the table for breakfast; make the lunches; put the grounds in the coffee maker; put trip slips, backpacks, and anything that needs to go to school by the exit door.
  • Set your own alarm clock earlier. I know you’ll hate this one, and I am sorry. But hurrying is the enemy of children. Set your alarm clock 10 minutes earlier than you think you need.   If you are not rushed, you will be more relaxed with your child. You will be just that much more available to your child, and he won’t need to act out to get your attention.  A chaotic, hurried atmosphere doesn’t make for a great school day send off.
  • Over estimate your family’s prep time.  However long you think it will take everyone to get ready for school…double it! If there is extra time, spend it doing something fun, even unexpected with your child. It will help to start his day off happily, and it is much better than rushing him.
  • Eat breakfast together. Spending a little quality time at the breakfast table together (not reading the paper, not checking email, not focused on the food that is or isn’t being eaten!), goes a long way toward filling your child’s tank.  His moments with you will stay with him throughout his whole day, reminding him that he belongs to a family who loves him.
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4 Comments for this entry

  • Marti Willens

    I enjoyed this and plan to share the “when the school year begins” with my middle school parents.
    Thanks for all your wisdom. I enjoyed reading all the articles.

  • Anna Drake-Ayala

    Hello! I stumbled across your website and I have a pressing concern related to the beginning of school and some separation anxiety.

    My 4-year-old daughter has no problem skipping along merrily without mommy to play with kids and be with a teacher. But she has a new little sister that caused some jealousy and clinginess last year, also some acting out. She was able to work through this and have a breakthrough in the last semester of school.

    Unfortunately, I had to leave the country to study for my Master’s degree for a two-week period. She was left with family–people that she has spent the night with before–as well as her father. But now that I’ve returned, she’s as clingy as before if not worse!

    She refuses to go to the bathroom without me accompanying her (NOT due to any abuse issues/history, btw), and she will not sleep unless I am in her room. (she was sleeping in the same bed as her grandmother in my absence.) If she wakes up and I’m not there, she will come running to get me. I at least have her finally sleeping in her own bed (which was a battle last year), but she is 4 years old, and it’s starting to hurt my back to sleep on the carpet next to her and wait until she falls asleep, not to mention all of the interrupted sleep during the night. (She will get me about 2 times a night.)

    What can I do to ease her insecurity and help her move back toward being the independent girl I once knew?? She will not even go into her bedroom to get a toy if I do not go with her, but she will finally do it if I refuse and she wants the toy badly enough. It’s really frustrating that I cannot move into any room in the house without her following me, climbing onto me and wanting to be picked up.

    So far, I have a nightlight in her room, a fan for white noise and comfort of temperature, and she always sleeps with specific toys. We have a bedtime routine where we brush teeth, use the bathroom and read books together. She holds my hand from the edge of the bed while I lay down on the floor next to her. I may try sitting in a chair next time… I removed her baby sister from her room and put her in the living room to avoid noise that wakes her up at night. She receives plenty of cuddles, love and reassurance, but she insists that she is too scared to sleep in her bed by herself.

    Of course I feel guilty that I left for two weeks even though it was a necessary decision to make. Now I have to deal with the consequences, and it’s hard to be patient. Any tips you could give for this kind of scenario would be appreciated.


  • Betsy BB

    You know, Anna, I wish there were a clear remedy for your situation, but there is not. And you already know, unfortunately, the issue with your already attached little girl was exacerbated by your leaving. I wish you had spoken to someone back then about how to prepare your daughter for you leaving and what to do while you were gone. Oh well. Spilled milk, as they say. Separation is tricky business and must be taken seriously.

    The best I can say, without having a real session with you, is to start very slowly, take baby steps, honor her feelings, and don’t expect too much. And do not get angry or frustrated with, which is hard to do!

    You might need to write a little book with her about when you had to go away. Tell the story in very simple terms, draw stick figures, (You, the airplane, etc..)and say things like, “Mommy had to go to New York for 14 days. (child’s name) was so sad. She missed mommy so much. Mommy had to take care of Aunt Susie…” Tell the story, and end with “And mommy came back home. Mommy ALWAYS comes back.”

    Beyond that, be patient, please. When she won’t go to her room without you, walk with her to the door and stand there while she goes in. Gradually, stand farther away. When you go to pee, have her stand at the door and not come in. Get it?

    For sleep, sit it in a chair by her bed. Gradually move it farther and farther away…eventually outside of the door, as she falls asleep. This may take 6 weeks.

    This is just meant to get you started. Good luck!

  • Anna Drake-Ayala

    Thank you so much. Before leaving, I spent around 2 weeks explaining to her that I had to go away on a plane, that I would be gone for a while, that I was going to visit Grandma and Grandpa and that I was going to bring her back presents. She asked me some questions and I answered them. I Skyped with her daily while I was doing the master’s program in a hotel and she seemed to be ok until I ended up in a place that didn’t have internet and then had to rely on a phone call here or there.

    The story idea is a good one. Maybe I can do that book idea for her before she goes to sleep. I had some bedtime conversations with her after I came back and the first week back, she slept in my bed with me since I knew that she would be insecure.

    Thank you for the ideas. I really appreciate it.

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