It’s the time of year when camps are closing, we’re meeting new teachers and school supply shopping begins. While parents and caregivers might be excited to return to the school-year routine, our children might have mixed emotions about going back to school — or starting school for the first time. To support children during this transition, learn what can be done to help make this a successful return to the classroom.

Prepare for the transition in advance

For many families, summertime means a break in routine. To help the children in your life prepare mentally and physically to head back to school, start by putting a predictable routine in place about two weeks before the first day. Establish consistent times for healthy meals, naps and nighttime sleep, and communicate those times and expectations with the children. For younger children, consider making an illustrated chart of the routine for them to follow along.

The unknown can cause anxiety. Help children prepare for a new school, routine or classroom by walking them through it. If possible, take the child to the new school or classroom, either on your own time or during an open house. While many aspects of going back to school are out of children’s control, you can help them feel empowered by giving them choices — like asking what they want for lunch the first week of school.

Stay on top of your children’s physical health

Make sure children are caught up on their recommended vaccines and back-to-school physicals to help keep them healthy throughout the year. You can also talk through the importance of regular handwashing for preventing sickness. For young children, creating a back-to-school handwashing routine at home will help them remember how to wash while at school. Teaching or reminding children to cover coughs and sneezes and reminding them to avoid sharing food or drinks with their classmates will go a long way in keeping them healthy.

Did you know that choosing the right backpack for children is important for their physical health? Choosing an appropriate-sized backpack for a child and filling it correctly can help prevent serious health outcomes in the future, like backaches and stooped posture. Learn how to choose the right backpack and backpack safety before school starts.

Emphasizing and normalizing mental health in children

Although it might be painful to imagine our children struggling with mental health, understanding how to talk about mental health with our children is important and can make it easier for them to talk to trusted adults when they need help.

The most important thing we can do is talk openly and honestly about all of the emotions that come with going back to school. Whether children are excited to see their friends or they’re anxious about starting a new school, remind them these feelings are normal. These conversations can be prompted with open-ended questions in a quiet, safe setting. It’s also recommended to pay attention to the phrasing of these questions. Replacing “why” with “what” in these questions can help erase any implication of an accusation. For example, saying, “What are you struggling with in math?” rather than, “Why are you struggling in math?”

Whenever a child talks to you about their feelings and concerns, remember to remain calm and listen to everything they have to say before responding kindly. Remember to reassure them that their emotions are normal, remind them they are safe and loved and work together to find a solution that makes sense for your family.

Finally, stay aware of any shifting behavior from your child. Changes in sleep habits, hygiene issues, increased irritability or changes in appetite can be a sign a child is struggling. For more guidance, the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) provides excellent mental health resources for youth and young adults.

Remember: transitions take time

Be sure to remind both yourself and your child that it takes time and patience to adjust to a new routine.

Parkridge Health is here for all of your health questions and concerns. Schedule an appointment online or call (423) 622-6848 for a free physician referral.