Submitted by Jordan Chingo, OTR/L
Northlakes Community Clinic
Heading back to school is exciting but also stressful for some families. That’s because any transition can bring its own challenges. This is why it is important to prepare not only your mind, but your body for changes. This is especially important for children as change can be a more difficult task for their developing brains and bodies. Below are some helpful ideas and strategies for parents to consider when helping their children transition back into the school year.
One of the most important things to think about and address is sleep! Sleep is a major factor in emotional regulation, engagement, and overall development. With summer, sleep routines change. It is important to return to a more structured sleep routine before school begins or it could lead to more difficult bedtimes, trying to wake sleepy kids, and overall challenges with emotional regulation. To help with earlier bedtimes use schedules, play outside more to burn off some energy, or integrate some calming activities (yoga, coloring, etc.) Into that routine to help transition to bed earlier. Try carrying your sleep routines into the weekend as well to help your children’s body adapt to this schedule.
Along with sleep routines it is important to establish daily routines. Try and encourage morning routines in a timelier manner to lessen stress when school mornings arrive. Lessening screen time and integrating more structured tasks into the day will help increase attention and engagement in school tasks. This can also be supported the night prior to school. Let your child pack up their own school supplies so they know what they are bring and lay out the clothes. This will eliminate choices in the morning and decrease stress of getting through that first day.
Another idea is to prepare your children for the school day is to talk about what they can expect. Try and keep this conversation positive so they go into their school days with a positive outlook. Take a drive by the school so they know where they will spend their days. You can also look up pictures and read stories that help your children understand what will occur within the school environment. If they are more prepared, their bodies will be in a calmer state, which will make the transition easier.
It is also very imperative to remember that school can be exhausting and stressful to children, even if they had a great day. When they get home it is important to allow them time to unwind and regulate their bodies. Allow them time to ride their bike, play outside, jump on the trampoline, color, etc. Before asking them to do homework or housework. Crunchy and chewy snacks are also helpful to help regulate your children after a long school day. This recharges their sensorimotor systems and will make it easier to get structured, non-preferred tasks done.
Children will often show when things are harder or too overwhelming for them through their words or actions. Try to be in tune to these cues and if your child is having a hard time with transitioning to school, maintaining good sleep hygiene, or progressing their developmental skills reach out to your primary care provider as an occupational therapy evaluation may be able to help support your child in these areas.
Happy 2021-2022 school year!
Jordan Chingo is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist in Ashland, Wisconsin.