Navigating the Back-to-School Transition

Transitioning from a relaxed summer schedule to a busy, hectic school schedule can be stressful for parents and their children. There are some children who can ease into a change with no problems and others who have tremendous struggles around the smallest changes. Most children reside in the middle ground between those two extremes.

Heading back to school is the most frequent transition children make in their lifetime. For parents, it may be a welcome transition, but some parents struggle to transition as much as their children. There are teachers to meet, routines to re-establish, backpacks to pack, and school supplies to buy. There are shopping trips for school clothes, after-care decisions, and scheduled physicals. Overall, everyone has a lot on their plates this time of year.

Here are several helpful tips to remember during this time of transition.

First, children need to know that feeling nervous is normal. Adjusting to a new environment, new teacher, and new friends is uncomfortable and overwhelming. Parents can address these worries by reminding their children that, while most things feel uncertain or uncomfortable when you haven’t experienced them before, they are likely to feel better over time.

Second, parents and children both need a schedule that is consistent, reliable, and that works for the family. These kind of routines eliminate stress for everyone involved and create a sense of comfort for children to rely on. Routines can be established around the morning time, after school time, and dinner/bedtime. It can be challenging to implement several routines at once, so try picking one part of the day that feels particularly stressful and implement a routine for that time period.

Third, children need room to express their feelings about transitioning back to school. Children often look to their parents to create an environment where this can happen. Ask your children what worries them. Ask them what they are looking forward to doing, seeing, accomplishing this school year. Ask them if there was anything from last year that could be done the same by their parents. Anything different? Some children may struggle to articulate answers verbally and may benefit more from working out their feelings by playing. Let your children guide you and tell you what they need – verbally or playfully!

Last, remember your resources. Children have parents, teachers, guidance counselors, mental health counselors, and even friends to help them with these transitions. Parents have many of the same resources, but they may not know when to utilize them. Remember parents- you can be your child’s biggest resource by getting to know what your resources are. Teachers are your go-to for questions about academic performance, peer relationships, classroom routines, and any day-to-day questions you have. Guidance counselors are helpful for those moments during the day when your child is a little emotional. They are also there to aid in decisions about exception plans your child may need. Mental health counselors can provide support for your child to sort out what changes in behavior or thoughts at home, along with appropriate expression of emotions. Friends are helpful for advice, opinions, and sharing stories of experience.

The transition of a new school year will happen every year for about 13 years, but it can be done smoothly and without many hiccups. Remembering these tips will help ensure a peaceful, stress-free return to ringing bells, recess, tests, and homework!


Kristina Owens, LMHC, RPT



Photograph courtesy of John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Flickr.