Transitioning Back to a School Routine

Article Written By: Judy Rooney, LCSW, Certified Mindset & Habit Coach, Behavioral Health, Tri-State Clearwater Medical

Heading back into the classroom after a summer of adventures, flexible schedules, and late nights can be challenging for many kids and parents. Some kids embrace the idea of getting back together with friends, teachers, and the routine of school, while others can feel some anxiousness and apprehension along with the excitement. There are some kids and parents that resist the change in their laid-back lifestyle of summer.  Understanding the mindset of your children and family members can help set the stage for a successful transition.

To facilitate this transition, it is helpful to talk with your family members about what aspects of the start of the school year they look forward to most. Knowing what their worries or concerns are, can give you a starting point to focus your attention.

To start the school year out right, first allow yourself the space to get back into the rhythm of the season. Try these tips:

Get Back Into a Routine – Routines actually free up our mental energy because we do not have to spend too much time thinking about why and what we are doing, and what then comes next.  Building routines makes you happier, less stressed, and more confident with your use of time. For children, these routines can give them a sense of safety, since they know what to expect.

  • Begin getting into a more consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine conducive to being more productive during the day, making bedtime and wake times more consistent with the school schedule.
  • Introduce structure into the day with projects that have time frames, encourage a thinking process – perhaps with simple math, and involve play and learning. This can be with meal preparation, care of the family pet, or household chore activities.

Make Organization a Priority – Modeling good organizational skills can help your kids develop good habits.

  • Have designated areas for backpacks, school papers, and sports/activity equipment so they can be easily found and available when needed. Set up visual cues.
  • Help your children to use a family calendar to get them used to scheduling activities and commitments, along with staying on time and on track with deadlines. Post the calendar for all to see and use.
  • Encourage children to use “to do” lists, so they learn the benefit of feeling productive when crossing off items completed.
  • Start the habit of preparing the night before; model and encourage this behavior for your children.
  • Start meal planning for the week, and have your kids be in charge of preparing the planned meal on a certain day of the week.

Build Positive Relationships

  • Encourage kindness. Reinforce with kids, “due unto others”, about putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. Ask your child to think before they speak, and to get in the habit of saying something nice. Teach good manners; greeting people respectfully and politely will benefit your child. Be a good role model as you interact with others throughout the day, whether at home or out in public spaces. Remember, kindness is contagious. Being kind makes kids feel good.
  • Build a gratitude practice with your children. Sharing what you are grateful for before bed promotes relaxation and better sleep, or sharing a gratitude in the morning can set a positive tone for the day. Sharing a gratitude with your child builds a better bond and deeper connection. Perhaps you may want to start a gratitude jar, where you add things you are grateful for on a slip of paper, and once a month, go through the slips and count your blessings. Write thank you notes together for gifts given, thoughtful gestures, and just to let someone know you are grateful for them.
  • Encourage your kids to give back. Perhaps as a family, you can volunteer your time, energy and/or resources. This behavior helps kids feel better about themselves, while caring for others.

Hold Family Meetings – Family meetings have many benefits besides bringing the family all together for communication and connection. Family meetings teach kids to express themselves, negotiate, and to learn the art of compromise. This family time may be used to review schedules, plan for future activities, discuss household chores, resolve conflict in the home, and to have dedicated fun family time. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Family meetings are most effective when held regularly, usually once a week. Consider holding the meeting after dinner on a particular evening, or some other regularly held event, that everyone is used to being home and together. Be flexible with how long the meetings should last. Take into account the ages and attention spans of the children, and agenda items.
  • Set up ground rules for the meeting, for instance: one person speaks at time, no put-downs, meetings are a technology-free zone, each family member has input to the agenda, and when voting – majority rules. You may agree to rotate the leading of the meeting to a different family member each week.
  • Keep the meeting upbeat; start and/or end the meeting with a fun activity, game, or project to make it more enjoyable. Encourage everyone to talk about a good or funny thing that happened to them the past week. Remember, family meetings are to encourage communication and connection; humor is important.
  • Record decisions that are made in a notebook that is available for everyone to access, so you can refer back to agreements and plans of who will do what, when. This also encourages follow through with activities, for kids and parents alike.
  • Expect some pushback from older kids and teens. Follow the intent for the meetings, and they will in time see the benefit; no need to pressure them to communicate. Be careful not to talk over the kids by keeping things simple. Do not lecture, blame, or point out mistakes of individuals, but rather stick to issues for example: “I noticed…, what can we all do about that?”
  • Every family is different; not every family meeting will go as planned. Help resolve issues by encouraging talking them through, developing ideas, modeling fairness, opportunities, and consensus building.

Be creative, do what works for your family. The support and understanding that can be fostered during this time of transition is invaluable throughout the year.