Supporting the Back-to-School Transition
Here we are!! It's finally back-to-school time and unlike last year, schools and families are feeling confident that children will be going back to school in-person. This might be good news for some, and a source of anxiety for others. Thankfully there are concrete ways to ease back-to-school anxiety and make the transition a little easier.
Start with a Conversation
Transitioning from home to school can begin with a conversation. The conversation should validate your child’s emotions and also be concrete and explicit about what is, and will be, happening. It is not necessary to go over every detail, but addressing some concerns specific to your child may be helpful. For example, providing information that the school's restroom hand dryers are not remote might be helpful if your child is fearful of them. A discussion may begin with a caregiver saying, “I have a message for you about school" or "I am about to tell you something that you may not like, but I am going to help you." Validating where your child is emotionally establishes trust and allows them to prepare for the information you are about to give. Telling your child up front that you are there to help them lowers anxiety because it reinforces that you can handle their fears.
Another prompt might be a short statement that school will be starting soon along with a picture of the school and a print-out of a calendar with a countdown to the first day. It may be helpful to have a complete social story with visuals to give an overview of the school, teachers' names, how your child will be dropped off and picked up, as well as who to go to for help. This can be read every evening leading up to school or whenever a child is feeling fearful. It is also a good way to address questions and concerns as they come up. If you are already in contact with your child’s teacher, making a list of questions to be answered on a Zoom call with that teacher prior to school may be helpful.
"See and feel" with a Visit
A visit or visits to school can be helpful, even if you cannot get inside. Drive the route your child will be taking every day and point out landmarks to help them get accustomed to it. Go to the school and walk around the building. If arrangements can be made to get inside early, walk around and spend some time easing your child’s fears about specific worries. For example, walk the route from classroom to bathroom, try out the automatic toilets, and practice saying “I need help” in the classroom.
Advice for Day One
Finally, when dropping off on the first day of school, tell your child that you look forward to seeing them later that day. For younger children, tell them “mommy always comes back” and put a photo of the two of you in their backpack. Make that first day "goodbye" a confident one, with a hug and an “I’ll see you at three!" - then separate, and leave. The longer the goodbye, the more anxious your child will feel in the situation. Your confident words and body language will make it very clear that all is okay with the transition.
If you are concerned about how transition is unfolding, ask the teacher to give you a quick check-in an hour or so later to discuss how the transition went upon your departure. Also ask for a few quick pictures of what your child did that day. Use the pictures after school as talking points with your child. This will help them remember the good moments of the day and also allow you to problem solve those that may have felt worrisome. Your child’s teacher wants to partner with you during this transition so be sure to establish a relationship early to help make this transition a success!
Lisa Corner, Director of Nexus at Mead | Home Center Director, Grades 6-8