If you think it’s hard returning to work after a week at the cottage, imagine what it’s like to go back to school after two carefree months of sunshine, popsicles and play.
Many kids have a hard time making the transition back to school, says Jack Muskat, a Toronto based clinical and organizational psychologist.
“Some kids, you throw them in the water and they just start swimming, and some just sink,” he tells CTVNews.ca.
Here are some things parents can do to give kids the confidence and reassurance they need to make the move back to class as seamless as possible.
Let your kids express their fears – Ask your children how they’re feeling about going back to school and give them a chance to talk.
Sometimes kids just need to tell someone that they are nervous or afraid, and to hear from you that it’s perfectly normal to be nervous at times of change.
“You want to allow the child to talk and express their feelings without you trying to solve their problems,” says Muskat. “So really, the best way to respond is: ‘Yes, I understand, I sometimes feel like that too.’
It can often help if you tell them about a time you felt nervous so they can be assured that even grownups feel this way too, and to allow them to think, “Oh ok, maybe I’m not so weird.”
Remind them: 'You can do this’ – Every kid has a few accomplishments under their belt, whether it was going to daycare or a sleepover, or even learning to ride a bike.
Remind your child that, although they were nervous doing those things, they succeeded then and can do it again.
“We tend to forget our successes, even as adults,” says Muskat. “So remind them that they’re good at mastering new things.”
Avoid the pep talk – It can be tempting to say things like, ‘Toughen up. You’ll be fine” – especially if that’s exactly what you’re thinking. But those kinds of words are not helpful to someone who is just looking for a little empathy.
Neither is saying things like, “Don’t be silly. There’s nothing to worry about.” To a kid, there’s plenty to be worried about when it comes to the unknown, so don’t dismiss their fears, Muskat advises.
Recognize that kids crave routines - Some kids need to feel fully organized so they can be confident about their return to school. So help them get the supplies they might need for class, work together to set a morning and after-school routine, create a homework area, and devise some method for keeping track of timetables and deadlines.
At the same time, be a good role model, Muskat advises. If you are calm and organized, your kids will take their cues from you.
Prep them for a new school - If your child is switching to a new school or moving up to middle school or high school, try to arrange a tour of the school if you can. Even better, see if you can meet one of the vice-principals or guidance counsellors so you can introduce yourselves.
If it’s too late for that, simply touring the schoolyard can help kids familiarize themselves with the grounds and make that first week a little easier.
Expect some bumps – Remember that to a child, eight or 10 weeks without school is a long time to be out of their regular routines, says Muskat. Chances are your kids have slacked off on reading and math and will need a little while to get back into the daily schoolwork and homework routine.
Your child might also be disoriented, he says, so they might do things like lose their daytimer, or forget their lunch.
“Just accept it and don’t make a big deal out of it. They’re just going to need time to get adjusted,” Muskat advises.
As for little ones, there’s a chance they’re going to regress a little when it comes to parental separation. “They may be fearful again, they might need more reassurance,” says Muskat.
He suggests returning to some familiar, older traditions, like reading favourite stories at bedtime. It might also help to let your child take some kind of transitional object to school, like a small action figure or squeezee toy.
Make exercise and sleep a priority – Muscat can’t emphasize enough how important it is for kids to get a good night’s sleep leading up to and during the first weeks of school. He says all kids – and parents too -- have trouble handling stress when sleep-deprived.
“So much of our thinking is affected by sleep,” he says. “So kids need sleep to make them better ready to face the day.”