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August 21st, 2020

Transition at school

Child Therapy

How to help your child through a transition at school

By Shannon Burton, MSW RSW, Registered Paediatric Social Worker

The start of school may be especially challenging for kids who are entering a transition year. Such as going into kindergarten, into middle school, or to a new school. Further, it can also be stressful if there’s a change in your child’s social support system – maybe a good friend has moved, or has a different teacher this year. Some anxiety is a normal response, but parents should know the difference between normal back-to-school jitters and anxiety that warrants clinical attention. Parents of anxious children should remember that routines are comforting and empowering for children. Secondly, remembering that what adults view as “little things” are often not “little” in the eyes of children. Further, kids crave predictability and feel more confident when they know what to expect.

Tips for parents

1. Empowering children with knowledge and simple routines
Talk to your child about what school might look like in simple and practical terms. What are the names of their teachers? How will the morning routine go? What goes in their backpack? How will they get to school? How might the school look different than the last time they were there?

Talk about how the school will help them be “germ fighters”, from hand washing, to possible physical distancing and possibly even wearing masks. If masks will be part of your child’s school routine, practice wearing the mask before school starts. Discuss how they look and feel wearing the mask. Use social media videos and images to help with the discussion!

If your child will be learning from home, where will their learning space be? What types of activities will they be doing with their teacher? What are some skills they will learn? Further, discussing the major transition changes (free time, lunch, exercise time, etc.) during the day. This helps kids understand the routine and can prepare them for growing and learning.

2. Build specific routines around mental and physical wellness
Look for and create specific checklists that highlight sleep, nutrition, free time, exercise and play routines. Change is stressful and adjustment to commencing school during these particularly strange times can be extra worrisome for children. Expect some meltdowns, or extra rudeness during the first few weeks as kids settle into their routine. Incorporating mindfulness activities into children’s daily practice can help kids breath and play through their anxiety and stress.

3. Focus on the excitement this new year brings!
Children tend to follow our cues and our lead. Further our emotions as parents dictate how our kids will feel and think as well as behave. If we express hope and excitement, generally speaking our children will do the same and pick up on the fact that everything will eventually be OK.

A Couple Final Reminders:

  • Remember, whether they are studying at home or in school, your kid will learn, grow and development normally this year – and that is worth acknowledging and celebrating. Situations may not be ideal or the same as before. However, they will learn new skills, build new relationships, and perhaps even grow an inch or two taller. Growing will occur physically on their outside and also socially, emotionally and cognitively on their inside as well. 
  • While we are caring for the “little things” that help kids grow, the “big things” on our shoulders as parents may feel overwhelming at times. If you are struggling with your own emotional reactions, make time to pause, reach out for help, and take care of your needs. Self-care is not Self-ish. If we take care of our own wellbeing (emotionally and physically) our children’s wellbeing will flourish as well. 
  • This school year is going to bring uncertainties and challenges. What is consistent among researchers is that the most important successor for children’s wellbeing and development of resilience is having at least one stable and committed relationship with a support parent, caregiver or other adult. In other words, your care and compassion will nurture their resilience. Just our presence in their lives is a strengthening force.

When to seek help

It is important to seek help, whether your family is experiencing stress, worries, anxiety and/or the blues in general or in relation to starting back school. Therapy with a Registered Social Worker can lead to enhancement in your mood and daily living. Further it can lead to greater attunement in relation to your child by increasing your awareness of their needs as well as your own needs. Children themselves can also benefit from therapy to assist processing and working through their feelings in relation to events – (starting school and other transition points) in their lives. When children and parents have worked with a therapist on their skills, children are able to access their inherent abilities to cope and often feel “lighter inside”.

Find the Right Therapist and Approach

Book a free 15-minute Meet and Greet with one of our professionals to find the right type of therapy and therapist for your needs.