Summer to School Simplified

By Charisse Lopez-Mason

Summer to School Simplified

By Charisse Lopez-Mason
Conquer common back to school challenges with an expert's guide for parents and children.

University Communications sat down with Jill Ehrenreich-May, associate professor of psychology, and director of the Child and Adolescent Mood and Anxiety Treatment (CAMAT) Program, to talk about ways to make the summer to school transition less stressful for both parents and kids.

When the sounds of summer fade, and sunscreen and beach buckets are traded for number two pencils and backpacks—it can only mean one thing—it’s back to school time! The start of the school year brings a lot of change. New schedules, teachers, and friends can cause angst for both parents and their children. As an expert in childhood and adolescent psychology, Ehrenreich-May shared tips and advice for parents and families on ways to help prepare for that first morning bell.

1.  Recognize that not all kids are the same
Some children will have apprehension and worry about going back to school, while some won’t. And if you have a child that leans towards the anxious side, find comfort in the fact that most kids are very resilient and will get through this transition effectively.

2.  Have a chat
Start a conversation about concerns fears or worries, and understand that some children will dismiss their anxiety or not know what to expect in the new school year. Regardless, take the time to open up a dialogue and ask questions. If topics of concern arise, don’t be afraid to reach out to the school and let the teacher(s) know you’re available if they have questions about the specific needs of your child. While new teachers may first wish to get to know your child before addressing potential concerns, it never hurts to let them know you are available to talk if and when needed.

3.  Don’t immediately jump to problem solving
Remember that when problems arise, your child should be involved in creating a solution. By working together, you are building upon the essential skill of resiliency. If it seems like your child is really struggling, try to understand whether or not their fears are realistic. Ask your child to think about “is this logically true?” Teach them how to approach situations rather than avoid them, as long as no true danger is present.

4.  Understand issues vary by age
New and unique fears and other challenges often evolve as your child ages and if problems persist beyond the first few weeks of school, it is important to be open to seeking professional help. Younger children may deal with separation anxiety, shyness, or phobias; but as they mature, their fears become more grounded in reality. Worries about the future, college, and personal independence are common but occasionally manifest into issues like depression, anxiety, and panic disorders. Teenagers may get fatigued with your concern or offers of support. They may not want to have the conversation at times, but they won’t forget you asked. Don’t stop providing the prompts.

5.  Start the routine
A week or two before the start of school, start resuming your routine and sleep patterns. This not only helps establish a regular schedule, but will also allow time to iron-out any wrinkles before the first day. Attending school related events like orientations, walkthroughs, or welcome picnics allow both students and parents to get acquainted and comfortable with new schedules and environments.

6.  Don’t over or under prepare
Many schools provide lists of required items and preparation tips. Use these to guide what you need and know that as long as your child has the essentials--uniform, pencils, backpack--they will be ready.  Just breathe, accept your level of preparation, and enjoy the last few of days of summer.

7.  Take care of yourself
The abrupt change is difficult for everyone, including parents. Find ways to relax and de-stress so the transition doesn’t feel like a shock.