With summer winding down, parents can help their children banish the back-to-school blues by taking a few simple steps to smooth the transition.
Adjusting to a new routine may take a few weeks or a few days, experts say, depending on the child's maturity. But all schoolchildren, whether they're heading to kindergarten or college, need a parental boost to help them make the switch.
For most elementary- and secondary-school students, moving into a school-day mode two weeks before classes begin may be all that's needed, says clinical child psychologist Edward Christophersen. "Get on the sleep-wake schedule so your child is used to it by the time school starts," he says. "If your child will be taking medication before school, start it ahead of time -- with permission from your pediatrician -- so there won't be any surprises."
Christophersen suggests making the last week of summer vacation more like a school week. "If there won't be any naps at school, then no naps that last week or so." Children should be dressed and fed at the same time they will be once school begins, he says, with breakfast consisting of the same foods they will be getting on school days.
The transition from school to summer and summer to school is not only physical but also "cognitive and social," says Cindy Reedy, assistant professor and coordinator of the early childhood education program at Arcadia University. "One must support the needs of the whole child, and that includes avoiding making statements such as 'the party is over; now it is back to the school grind.'"
Parents can put a positive spin on their children's summer activities by connecting them to their school experience, she says. "When your child works hard around the house or in a paying position, compliment him on his work ethic and commitment to the task, and remind him that the same skill set is necessary and utilized in the classroom. Or talk about current news items in relation to his upcoming coursework. Let him see that summer and school are not two separate entities."
Family transition specialist Natalie Caine suggests involving your child in the back-to-school process. "Once they start to shop for back-to-school items, kids begin to feel the shift. Ask them how they want to get ready for school and what they need to sleep better and get up earlier. If they say 'I don't know,' then ask, 'May I give you a suggestion?'"
Caine believes the transition from summer to school can't be planned more than two days ahead. "Signal that you care and will help them with this transition. But it is unrealistic to think they will plan ahead. Worries spin like hamsters, so why bother adding to the dizziness?"
First-time college students also face a transition, says Houston Dougharty, vice president of student affairs at Grinnell College. He recommends that parents and their college-bound teens discuss:
--Communication. How and how often will you and your child communicate during the school year? Parents need to feel connected but also foster the student's sense of independence, critical in the early days of a new college experience.
--Grades. Federal law restricts institutions from releasing grades and other educational records without a student's written permission. Talking about the expected level of disclosure before the semester will prevent unwelcome surprises.
--Temptations. College success is not only getting good grades but also about making positive social choices. For some students, this will be the first time they face temptations such as sex and drugs. Students tend to be open to advice and feedback from their parents about these issues if discussion starts early.
--Time management. The college workload may far surpass what teens experienced in high school. Effectively balancing time for sports, clubs and socializing with their college course demands can be overwhelming. Talk to your college-bound kids about time management skills, and advise them to continue using such tools as the day planner and the alarm clock.
--Involvement. Strike a parent-student balance between being involved and staying abreast of campus activities and allowing your child to create his or her own college experience.