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Easing a Child’s Summer to School Transition

Tips to smooth the road back from slacker to student

For many kids and families, summer can be a time to let things slide, a least a little bit. Bedtimes may be somewhat later and not so stringently enforced, meals somewhat more casual, and mornings starting slower. While there may not be any problem with that approach, a sudden pivot to a busy schedule and an alarm clock set at 6am can be a rude awakening. Many children handle this change quite well, and for them there is no need to suddenly design some elaborate transition plan. For others, however, the switch from the summer to school schedule is bumpier. If this has been your family’s experience, than it might make sense to consider taking a few steps that might make things work more smoothly so that your child doesn’t start the school year off on the wrong foot.

Sleeping and waking. One of the toughest things for some kids is simply getting up early in the morning, ready for the day. To be successful, this usually means getting to bed earlier too. A sudden shift from a summer bedtime to a school day bedtime, which may differ by several hours, can often be quite difficult. Instead, it may work better to begin moving bedtime earlier on a gradual basis by about 30 minutes or so every few days. This can be accomplished even more successfully by making sure that your child has been physically active during the day and doesn’t have his or her phone in their room all night getting texts from friends.

Family meals. Having meals together as a family is a good recommendation in general but often this is one of the first things to go in the summer as kids and parents head off in a million different directions. As the school year approaches, consider letting family members know that family meals are back, and perhaps sweeten the pot by cooking some family favorites to get things started.

Restarting routines. If there are other standard things that your kids do during the school year but have been relaxed during the summer (things like lessons or certain chores) these can be brought back before school in an effort to begin rebuilding that important sense of structure and predictability.

School anxiety. Many if not most children approach the new school year with some measure of apprehension or at least disappointment that the summer is over. For some, however, the level of anxiety can be more severe. These kids can benefit from some direct discussion about what exactly is making them nervous, which in turn can lead to specific remedies. Kids entering new schools, for example, might find helpful the ability to walk around and learn where things are before the school is full of kids. Other children might feel better by starting an assigned book a little early so they don’t get behind.

Readers are invited to share other tips that have worked for your own family to smooth the transition from summer to school.

@copyright by David Rettew, MD

David Rettew is author of Child Temperament: New Thinking About the Boundary Between Traits and Illness and a child psychiatrist in the psychiatry and pediatrics departments at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

Follow him at @PediPsych and like PediPsych on Facebook.

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