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Surviving Back to School When Your Child Struggles with Routine Changes

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If your child has not caught it yet, it is likely that your child will soon catch a case of back-to-school jitters as the upcoming school year creeps near. For children (and parents), these symptoms could look like increased behaviors, emotional turmoil and additional stress. With a few precautionary action items, you can prevent or lessen your child’s struggles with routine changes and survive back-to-school time.

Structured Routine – Stick with a Schedule
Keeping your child on a structured schedule or routine will benefit you both in the long run. Like most adults, children feel more confident when their routine is predictable and they know what to expect. Following a schedule will also help prepare your child for their return to school as they will be expected to engage in academic tasks and enrichment activities for at least six hours a day. A set bedtime will reinforce the importance of routine and ensure that your child is well-rested for a productive day.

Talk about Expectations Beforehand
Communication is the key to success. Talking with your child about expectations before an activity or change in events, including returning back to school, will help ease any discomfort your child may be feeling. Take the time to talk with your child about what time they will wake up in the morning, if they will eat breakfast at home or at school, their teacher and friends, and whether or not they will ride the school bus. There are free resources online, such as social stories, that will be helpful to use when talking about returning to school.

Make a List of Coping Skills
Talking about back-to-school time can feel overwhelming and cause anxiety in children. Take some time to identify and develop a list of coping skills that your child can utilize if and when they feel overwhelmed. There is a variety of small, low-cost manipulatives that you can pack in your child’s backpack or lunchbox to use as a fidget when feeling frustrated or worried. Fidget spinners, POP-its!, putty, and journals are all reasonable items to tuck away in an easy-to-access pocket for your child to use on the bus, in the cafeteria, or in the classroom. Remind your child the power of taking deep breaths, asking for a walk, and using mindfulness as coping tools.

Involve Your Child in Decision Making
Believe it or not, you will alleviate a great deal of tension by involving your child in decision making. When preparing for school, provide your child with options and encourage them to make choices of their own. Your child will feel in control if given the opportunity to pack their own lunch with some supervision. Provide your child with healthy options to choose from and allow your child to pick out which items they would like to pack for the following day. Before bedtime, help your child pick out their outfit for the following day of school. You can provide your child with two weather-appropriate choices and encourage them to pick which outfit they would like to wear to school. Allowing your child to have “control” in certain situations will give them more confidence and feel better about returning to school. A simple trick is to name two task items that need to be completed (ex: get dressed and brush teeth) and allow your child to choose which task they will do first. The simple pleasure of choice will go a long way.

Make Connections and Build Rapport
The best survival skill you can use during back-to-school time is dedicating time out of your day to “show up” for your child – to be a listening ear, a cheerleader, and a friend. Building your child’s self-esteem up with praise and understanding will help form the rapport needed during this stressful time. Set aside some time to connect and bond each day with your child. This valuable time will be a staple to surviving back-to-school.

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