The right rhythm: Back to school routines can pose difficulties for kids

August 2019 Posted in People, School

By Melissa Wagoner

“Some years are boohoo years and some years are woohoo years, and this is more of a boohoo year,” Christine Eubanks, mother of three – Cosette, 9, Eli, 12 and Sam, 15 – said of the upcoming school year.

She explained that, although none of her children are new to the experience of going back to school, some years still hold challenges that others have not.

“This year is a little more emotional because Eli is going into a middle school classroom and Cosette is having a new teacher,” she explained.

So with school only a few weeks away, to combat what could potentially be a bumpy start to the school year, Eubanks has already begun prepping her kids for the changes ahead: dialing back bedtime, posting detailed lists of morning chores and establishing a set routine.

“One of the things that happens to us when we start summer is our go to bed and wake up times skew later and later,” fellow parent and educator Jessica Newton said.

A teacher in the Health Department at Silverton High School, Newton has witnessed first-hand the importance of a well-rested child. She recommends that parents immediately begin moving their children toward the sleep cycle they will utilize come fall.

“Helping children transition to earlier bedtimes, eating less sugar, working to limit screens, and playing educational games together would all help children get ready for their first day back,” Hilary Conroy, an elementary teacher at Community Roots School, agreed.

Both teachers also recommended making the closure of summer a positive transition for children.

“Change is difficult at all ages and it is easy to give off a feeling of being bummed that summer is ending and school is starting,” Conroy explained.

“Instead, embracing this change with a positive attitude and seeing it as a new adventure – an adventure that, as a family we are all in together… Embracing this upcoming opportunity to teach your child about this skill will serve them throughout their life.”

And incorporating fun traditions – such as one-on-one school shopping trips or end-of-the-summer barbecues – can also be a great way of marking the change in season, according to Newton who added, “Making it a bit of a holiday is one way you can show it’s a special time.”

But while making room for fun is important, it is equally essential to begin preparing children for what lies ahead – and that doesn’t just mean purchasing the required items on the school supply list.

“One of the things people get hyper-focused on is the stuff,” Newton noted.
“I need this lunch box, I need this backpack – it’s something we can control. So if someone doesn’t have the right stuff, that’s what they get anxious about.”

Instead, Newton recommends parents downplay the stress of getting everything together, especially if money is tight or certain items are hard to find.

“Not so much ignoring it all together,” she began,” but a lot of people say – I don’t have one right thing – and they’re hard on themselves. You can still buy a notebook after school starts.”

And with all of the worries students – especially those who are moving into a new classroom or a new school – face, it’s often up to the parent to, once again, model the best practices.

“When they start school they’re going to make mistakes,” Newton said. “Some of them have been in the same school for eight years and they have only four or five classes and now they’re at SHS. They’re going to go to the wrong class and feel like everyone’s looking at them. But if we as parents model grace-giving, it’s going to be OK.”

And that’s where communication is key.

“The talking about it is so good,” Eubanks said. “Because we’ve done it for so many years, but it’s new to them. And sometimes we assume they know what to expect.”

Those expectations can feel overwhelming. From classroom routines and school rules to little details like what the school looks like and who the teacher will be, it can all feel like too much, too fast to a child.

“Let them know what the plan will be,” Carly Fuerst, a fifth grade teacher at Butte Creek Elementary, suggested.

“Take them to the school so they can see the outside of it,” Savannah Sinn, a kindergarten teacher for the Salem School District, added.

“Play on the playground,” Fuerst continued. “And reach out by sending an email to the teacher. A lot of teachers are probably open to getting to know you.”

As for older students, whose expectations may be slightly different, Newton recommends going over both school and parent rules regarding technology.

Once school is in full swing, each teacher recommended parents continue supporting their child by maintaining a courteous relationship with the student’s teachers.

“Reach out with respect and be aware that there is a lot of things on a teacher’s plate,” Sinn said.

But ultimately, communication on a daily basis with the child is what’s truly paramount.

“Please ask your student about their day,” Conroy said. “If you aren’t getting very much information from your student when you ask, ‘how was your day’ try to be more specific. ‘What was a highlight from today? Who did you sit by at lunch?  What was your favorite part of rug time?’  Check on their whole person – social, emotional, and academic.”

Although the return to school and its routines can be stressful and challenging, it is important to remember that it is up to parents to demonstrate how to best handle the change.

“The adult’s positive attitude toward school makes a big difference in your child’s attitude toward school,” Conroy explained. “As adults, experience and share with your child the joy of learning something new. Talk about how fun it can be to do something new.”

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