Mental and Emotional Prep for the New School Year
While the summer is a time to play in the sun, travel, hang out with friends, and embrace the outdoors, it’s also a good time to prepare our children for the new school year. Whether it’s their first time in a classroom, a new grade, or school – or maybe they’re moving on to college – there are things you can do throughout the summer months to help them get ready emotionally, mentally, and academically and reduce back to school anxiety.
Change can be difficult for anyone, and especially young people. It doesn’t matter how popular, academically successful, or comfortable they are in their school setting – starting a new school year can be a little scary. Talk to your child about the changes that are coming. Approach it with a sense of excitement, growth, and anticipation for the unknown. Our children tend to mirror our sentiments and reactions. Try some of these conversation starters:
- What are you most excited about for this school year?
- What were some of your favorite memories from last year? Do you think you’ll want to experience similar things?
- What would you like to accomplish this year? What types of people would you like to meet?
Ask open-ended questions to allow them to give you a thoughtful response led by their own feelings. Listen to your child as they share their feelings, fears, and hopes for the new school year. Validate their emotions, give them tools to address their concerns and support their new goals for the school year.
Academic Prep Lite
Learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom – it happens every day, all day long. There are lots of ways to incorporate learning into daily activities without making it feel like a chore:
- Cooking and baking offer ways to learn basic science and math
- Handling money (helping with grocery shopping, going to the bank, etc.) teaches math and problem solving
- Playing word games, like hangman, Wordle, or Scrabble, supports vocabulary skills
- Attention games like ‘Simon Says’ increase listening skills
Reading is fundamental and should be encouraged over the summer. No need for kids to have to read War and Peace, but a graphic novel, a book about a fun subject, or even an instruction book for Legos, cooking, or putting together furniture, can provide entertainment and education.
Older Kids = Different Supports
Parents of teens who are getting closer and closer to going off into the adult world: fostering independence is incredibly important, and the summer months are a great time to practice it. Encourage your adolescent children to make their own decisions, learn from mistakes, and try new things. Spend time teaching them life skills they might not yet know, such as:
- Doing their own laundry
- Making simple meals
- Accessing and organizing their financial and medical information
- Using public transportation
- Doing basic household repairs
Talk to your teens about advocating for themselves; help them understand what they need to ask for, and how to ask for what they want. Discuss ways to balance taking care of themselves and being there for others.
Balancing Structure and Summer Freedom
So, with all of this intentional activity, how much structure should we be enforcing to make sure our children’s transitions back to school are smooth without stifling their summer breaks? While it’s important to feel the freedom that the summer may offer, it’s also important to make the decision to be prepared. The amount of structure you set depends on your child’s age and individual cognitive and emotional needs. Some kids are better able to adjust to change than others. Some benefit from routines even in the summer to make the transition back more fluid. Some are more capable of assessing and communicating their own needs. You, as their parent, are the best person to know these things about your child.
Regardless of how you choose to plan out the summer, it’s a good idea to start thinking about the practical side of the back-to-school transition at least a week before school starts. Set the bedtime routine, plan for what mornings will look like, decide who will be responsible for what, and review the importance of sleep for learning, focus, and growth.
Reducing Back to School Anxiety
All of these strategies and approaches are bound to make summer break productive and wholesome for you and your family. They say that preparation is the mother of success and, when done right, it can make a huge difference in experience for your children. Also, if you happen to have a young athlete in the family, check out this month’s blog from my colleague and PM Pediatric Care Senior Medical Advisor, Dr. Christina Johns, about ways to prepare them for the fall sports season, here!
About the Expert
Caryn Azemoun, Parent Coach at PM Behavioral Health, is a Professional Certified Coach through the International Coaching Federation (ICF-PCC), Certified as a Positive Discipline Parent Educator and Parenting with Insight. She uses her skills as a coach, her knowledge of parenting, her education in psychology and sociology, and her passion as a mom to support parents as they find their best selves.