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"Transitioning Your Young Child from Summer Back to School"

Helping Your Young Child Successfully Adjust from Summer to the Fall Schedule

By Rebecca Landau-Millin, Psy.D. and Mary FitzGerald, LCSW-C

The transition from the carefree days of summer to the busy fall schedule is on the minds, not only of parents, but young children too!!  The process of adjusting back to school typically creates anxiety that can keep parents, as well as young children, up at night. There are many ways that parents can help to guide their children back into the fall routine.  

Here are several ideas that might be helpful to you:

Tips for Parents - During the Summer:

  • Staying connected –  Children benefit greatly from enjoying new and continued friendships outside of their school groups. Staying in touch and reconnecting with school friends, through play dates and get togethers at the playground, before the start of the school year, helps boost your child’s confidence and ease your child’s return to school.  

  • Problem solving together  - Your child may express anxiety about the coming school year.  Show interest in hearing more about your child’s concerns in detail.  Perhaps your child, with your encouragement, can brainstorm some ideas for dealing with his/her concerns.  Some young children do well talking directly and others prefer to use imaginative play to express their concerns.

  • Preserving routines –  Although taking a break from the busy demands of the school year brings relaxation and more chances for family time and friends, maintaining a relatively consistent routine that includes age-appropriate chores such as ease the transition into the school year.  

  • Building self-reliance  - If your child has not yet mastered packing up his/her school bag and developing a system to keep track of daily belongings, this is the perfect time to start!  Achieving this level of self-reliance helps a child to succeed with the personal organization required to be successful in school. The summer is an ideal time to help your young child master self-care skills in getting ready and packing up for camp or even a trip to the beach or pool!  

Tips for Parents - As the School Year Begins:

  • Easing Back  -- Children need support in successfully transitioning back into the school routine.  Building in time for young children to become familiar with and to practice the new routine will help them feel in charge and ready on the first day.  

  • Take time for yourself – The more parents feel relaxed and rested, the better parents are equipped to manage the many challenges of parenting, including helping their young child adjust to the school year.

  • Keeping Calm --  As a parent, your emotional state has a direct influence on the emotional state of your young child.  Remaining at ease and composed sends a signal to your child that there is nothing to worry about because you are in charge.  This helps a child feel safe and confident to move forward.

  • Schedule Wisely - Appointments and meetings accompany the beginning of the school year and add to the demand placed on you and your child.  Be thoughtful and organized in how you manage your time. Allow extra time in between appointments to act as a “buffer.” This will help you and your child remain calm and feel in charge of your day.  

  • Save time for play - Play is a key building block in a child’s emotional development.  It is one of the fundamental ways that your young child works through feelings about his or her life experience, to include beginning school for the first time.  For this reason, parents are suggested to make imaginative play time a priority in the daily schedule. This will help your child feel more confident and feel more positive about starting school.

  • Play with your child - Playing together with your child is an effective way to promote family bonding, enhance your child’s self esteem, and help prepare your child to feel confident and successful, especially during times of transitions.   Offer your child at least 20 minutes a day of your undivided, uninterrupted time to play with your child. During this time, let you child choose the play activity and follow your child’s lead in the creation of and direction of the play.  

Although back to school jitters are common for children, if you have concerns that your child is struggling with overwhelming anxiety or sadness, tearfulness, or showing other changes in his/her behavior, seek professional advice by speaking to a child psychotherapist or your child’s pediatrician.

For more information about helping children adjust to the new school year or other parenting concerns, please contact the authors:

Rebecca Landau-Millin, Psy.D. (www.drlandaumillin.com) is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Chevy Chase, Maryland.  She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from The George Washington University.  Dr. Landau-Millin works with adults in individual and couples therapy, and parenting consultation for married or single parents.  Dr. Landau-Millin provides psychotherapy to children from preschool age through the teenage years. Dr. Landau-Millin can be reached at (301) 922-1114, or [email protected]

Mary FitzGerald, LCSW-C. (www.maryafitzgerald.com) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an adult Psychoanalyst with a private practice for adults, adolescents, and children in Chevy Chase, Maryland.  Ms. FitzGerald, received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland and her postgraduate training in adult and child psychotherapy and psychoanalysis from the Washington School of Psychiatry and the Washington Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis. Ms. FitzGerald provides parenting education and support to parents with children of all ages and provides psychotherapy to young children, teens, and adults.  Ms. FitzGerald can be reached at (202) 236-2160 or [email protected]