By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations
Back in June, I wrote a blog about dealing with uncertainty at the end of the school year. Now, two months later, families are focused on the transition back to school, and a level of uncertainty still remains. Many children are re-entering full in-person learning for the first time in over a year and a half. We are also facing the reality that our overall community health is not as improved as we hoped it would be by now. There is debate about how to appropriately re-enter school, and this stress is likely palpable for many children and teens. As a community, we are grieving the continued loss of “normalcy,” with no clear idea of when that will be recovered.
How do we help children, and their adults, transition back to school during such a time? Some of the basic strategies are similar to those that we do to help them cope with the end of the school year. This includes watching for signs that your child may be struggling (e.g., difficulty sleeping) and talking about their feelings related to starting school in an open and validating manner. In addition, here are some strategies for helping to ease the upcoming transition to school:
- Start to work into your schoolyear daily routine within the last week or two of summer. This includes bedtimes and wakeup times.
- Create a morning and evening routine checklist or schedule. Use visual prompts for young children. For example, a morning checklist may include: Wake Up, Get Dressed, Eat Breakfast, Brush Teeth, Pack Bag (listing words or pictures of what to pack), and Departure Time. Practice this checklist for a couple days ahead of school starting to help you child get into the routine and understand how long each task will take.
- Preview your child’s schoolyear to the extent possible. This may include reviewing their class schedule, looking at their teacher’s profile or picture on the school website, going to a back-to-school event at their school, etc.
- Help your child set some goals for the upcoming year, trying to create intrinsic goals (e.g., build confidence with reading; make a new friend; ask questions more; etc.), rather than extrinsic (e.g., get straight As).
- For children who were full remote last year and whose schools have mask mandate, practice wearing a mask at home for increasing durations of time.
- Avoid scheduling extra activities during the first two weeks of school, such as weekend trips or appointments, allowing for a more relaxed transition.
- Particularly for elementary age children, email your child’s teacher ahead of the year starting in order to briefly introduce yourself and your child. If you child has specialized needs, concisely highlight key things that the teacher should be aware of heading into the year.
- For children who will be using a locker for the first time, have them practice opening a combination lock at home before the year starts.
- For families feeling dissatisfaction regarding your school’s COVID-related mandates or plan, work to keep this conflict or stress away from your child.
Understood.org has a range of tools to help children transition back to school, including a Back to School Update for teachers, Backpack Checklists, Back-to-School Worksheet, Introduction Letter templates, and a Self-Awareness Worksheet, among others. Consider the above tips and resources and determine which are most appropriate for your child and their current skill set and feelings regarding the return to school. With the right tools in place, children and families can feel more confident entering the school year.
About the Author:
Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.
To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (603) 818-8526.