Summer has turned to fall, and school is back in full swing. This transition can evoke some big emotions for our little ones. For those most impacted, this may look like a morning drop-off routine that consists of welled-up eyes and pleas to stay home.
The back-to-school blues may reflect differences in a child's attachment style, their self-regulatory needs, and/or their ability to adapt to changes in routine, to name a few. Just as there are several contributing factors that can give rise to this response to a new school year, there are many things we can do to help walk children through the transition back.
Open Communication: Create a safe environment for your child to express their worries leading up to a new school year. Encourage their active involvement in collaborative problem-solving. Aim to be solution-focused to prevent increased anxiety in anticipation of the return.
Develop a Routine: Before the start of school, foster opportunities for short separations. Start transitioning back to the school schedule a week or two before school begins. Gradually adjust bedtime and wake-up times to prepare. Make a visual schedule that outlines the daily routine.
Set Achievable Goals: Scaling involves assessing a child's current situation, exploring their goals, and determining what steps can be taken to achieve those goals. Begin by asking the child to rate their current feelings or level of preparedness for going back to school on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being extremely anxious or unprepared and 10 being completely confident and ready. Work together to create a simple action plan. What specific steps can the child take to move from their current rating to their goal rating on the scale? This might involve transitioning planning with their classroom teacher, planning for a soft start to the school day, and/or practicing relaxation techniques across settings. Emphasize that setbacks are normal and celebrate any progress made, no matter how small.
As the school year progresses, continuously reflect and adjust goals to monitor and respond to your child's evolving needs. While the back-to-school blues can be a common experience for many children, it is important to seek help to rule out and treat broader experiences of separation anxiety in cases where these needs persist/increase in severity. In these cases, consider connecting with your family physician or a qualified mental health provider to access more targeted and intensive supports as needed.
The start of a new school year is not easy for everyone. I hope you find these tips helpful and your child has a great year!
About the Author: Harkiran holds a Masters of Education in School and Applied Child Psychology from the University of Calgary. She has extensive experience providing therapeutic intervention to children and adolescents of diverse abilities in school, community, and home environments as a behaviour interventionist, applied behavioural analysis support worker, and program manager. Harkiran currently works as a Certified School Psychologist in a public School District. For more information about Harkiran, check out her profile.