Blog:  Expert Corner

The Best Way to Ease the Back-to-School Transition

Expert Corner blog post by Bob Cunningham
Sep 16, 2014

Student wearing a pink backpack on her way in to school

We’ve all been told what we’re supposed to do to get our kids ready to go back to school. You know the advice. Get them to bed earlier. Feed them healthy meals. Turn off the TV and computer. Establish a school day routine and put vacation behind them.

I’m sure these suggestions work for many families and kids. But I know from talking with many parents and children that these ideas don’t always work well if your child has learning and attention issues.

And why would they? Transitions can be really tough for kids with learning and attention issues. Sudden transitions can be even tougher. So why would you stop the summer and start school abruptly for your child? You could, of course, start the transition a few weeks before school starts. But we both know how well your child would react to that idea and what those weeks would be like for you and your family.

We also know that the first few days or weeks of school can be exhausting for kids with learning and attention issues. It takes a lot more energy for them to meet the everyday organization, social and concentration demands associated with school—let alone the academic work. That’s why a new school year can make kids anxious, overly active, irritable and just plain grumpy. Does that sound like a child who’ll just jump right back into a school routine?

If you find yourself facing a new school year and not feeling well prepared, don’t panic. And don’t lose hope. The key is to make the transition smooth and gentle. I’ve shared a lot of ideas with parents over the years, and these are some of the suggestions they’ve found most helpful:

  • Keep the summer fun going. Plan at least one activity that your child loves for the first week of school.
  • Allow more downtime with the TV or computer after school than you usually will during the school year. You can gradually reduce or eliminate screen time once school really gets underway.
  • Keep your child’s schedule clear. Try not to make any extra family plans or appointments for the first two weeks of school so your child can relax after school.
  • Try to be home with your child after school as much as possible for at least the first week. This way you can set up school day routines gradually instead of all at once.
  • Continue to allow your child to eat junk food if he’s been having it in the summer. Don’t quit suddenly. Cut back gradually.
  • Let your child stay up a little later the first week of school. In the second and third weeks, you can move to an earlier sleep schedule.

In my experience, some kids just need a little more time to adjust. When the standard advice doesn’t work for your child, tackle things gradually. Keep some of the summer fun alive, and provide enough downtime. These strategies can help your child (and you) make a successful transition back to school.

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About the Blogger

Portrait of Bob Cunningham

Bob Cunningham serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.

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