Easing kidsí transition into autumn routines

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 23, 2011

By Dr. Peter A. Gorski
St. Petersburg Times
While we cling to the last days of summer, most parents are feeling the winds of change on the horizon. Iím referring to the anticipation of children going off to school, some for the first time, others returning after a long break.
Thinking ahead about how to ease the transition into autumn routines can help prepare children to hit the ground smiling. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Establish ó or re-establish ó bedtime routines and hours before school starts. Young children need a full nine to 10 hours of sleep in order to bring their best energy for attention, learning and social behavior to school each day. Shut down evening screen time well before bedtime.
2. Expect your child to behave and/or feel different after school for the first days or weeks of the term. Kids work hard to adapt to the social and learning demands of school, and their work is even harder until people, places and schedules feel predictable. Itís wise to allow children a period of time right after school to relax, unwind and play before asking them to do anything constructive or structured like homework, dinner or chores.
3. Watch for signs from your childís behavior that may indicate more than the expected back-to-school distress. Unusual and persistent irritability and changes in appetite, energy or mood might suggest that your child is worn out or overwhelmed or miserably unhappy. Talk to your child and his or her teacher. Once you identify the source of the trouble, you will be able to figure out ways to improve the situation.
4. In the days before school starts, walk or ride with your child to the school building and get to know the place and its neighborhood so theyíll feel familiar to your child.
5. With a young child, prepare through play. Take turns playing the roles of teacher and student. Talk about who else will be in the class, play cooperative games and role-play a story time.
6. With children of any age, tell them stories about your first weeks of school ó the excitement and the nervousness you felt. Who helped you? What was great? How was a new grade different from the previous ones? Ask them what they are anticipating from this school year.
7. Talk about all the terrific things to look forward to in school and how a new school year means that your child is growing so big and smart.
8. Ask your child if he or she wants to bring a special object along to school in a backpack ó perhaps a stuffed animal, a charm, a bracelet, a baseball card, a photo or some other age-appropriate version of a security blanket. Plan together what your child will wear the first few days.
9. Check to be sure your childís immunizations are up to date and he or she has had a yearly physical. Starting off with a clean bill of health or a clear approach to managing chronic health challenges goes far toward starting school with all engines firing. Most importantly, your child should have a regular physician and a secure health insurance policy.
10. Parents: Get yourselves ready ó physically and emotionally. Your child will need your enthusiasm, calm guidance and comforting during this period of change, so make sure you have the support you need and have made arrangements that will help you be as available as you want to be.