Recently I was in a bagel shop enjoying a delicious meal when I looked up and saw on the menu that they had an entire board devoted to "Back to School Savings." What? Why does a bagel shop need to have back to school savings and especially why is this even an option in July. This is an example of a huge movement in retail and other public arenas to start preparing for transitions way too early. I have been seeing back to school sales in all of the major chains and smaller stores as well for weeks. Now, you must know that I actually LOVE shopping in these sections and purchasing school and office supplies and I always have. Growing up (and I actually still do), I considered myself to be a nerd. I loved school from my very first day of preschool and was always eager to learn, and of course, get ready for my next school year. I don't remember, however, how early my parents felt the pressure needed to prepare me for a big transition between grades and even bigger--between schools. Having some anxiety myself, even for a kid who loved school, getting ready for and talking about this transition definitely heightened nervousness.
Fast forward to today, working as a psychologist and seeing so many children becoming anxious about going to school, I became so interested in the retail phenomena of back to school savings. Working with schools and families, I have learned about the work and stress that goes into planning big graduations, especially for preschoolers. While these events are important to have and it is great to celebrate accomplishments, it is still necessary to balance the excitement between one school year ending and another one beginning. There are two months (typically) between these two milestones. Parents-enjoy the summer and time off with your kids. There are plenty of books and professionals you can access to help prepare your children for the next transition when the time is right.
How do you know when the time is right? The answer is (as I learned in graduate school that this is usually the correct answer) it depends. For some children, they may be eager to start talking about and visiting their new school or anxiously awaiting at the mailbox in late August for the name of their teacher or class schedule. Other children may be more nervous (whether they are verbally communicating this to their parents or not) about beginning a new year. This may be especially true when the summer marks a transition between two levels of school (such as between preschool and Kindergarten, and Junior high and high school). It is normal to experience a certain level of anxiety about starting a new school year. After all, it is a chance to learn new things, meet new people, and challenge yourself with a new curriculum. But let it be that. And let it stop there. No need to talk repeatedly about transitioning to Kindergarten by practicing graduation songs in March. No need to purchase 6 different books to start reading them to your child in June. You know your child the best and you know what they need. Listen and pay attention to your child's words and behaviors. They are communicating to you. If you know that you have told your child they are going to Disney World two months before you are actually leaving and they can’t stop talking about it or asking you when you are leaving multiple times a day, you may have learned that they transition better when told about something new a few days prior to the change. If you child does better with slowly processing new information and upcoming changes, he/she may need to be prepared a bit earlier in slow increments.
There are some helpful ideas for preparing your child to start a new school year. Some parents have shared that reading books (and you can buy them easily at any bookstore or online) about going back to school have been helpful. Others have found it helpful (and this is one of my favorite and often recommended ideas) to have a special trip to the store with your child to choose his/her school supplies and give input into the materials that work best for them (and are required by the school). Some parents choose to bring their child to the playground of the new school and let them get used to the scenery. There are many ideas that can be used. The most important things to remember are to know your child, listen to what they are communicating to you, let them know they will be safe at school, and you will be there every step of the way to help them transition.
Some children may need a little extra support to talk about, prepare for, or make the transition to a new school year. This is ok and there is lots of support out there. I love working with children and families and helping with this transition. Call me, write me an e-mail, or visit me online and I will be happy to help. You can also post on my Facebook page. I love to hear your thoughts!
So now, go and enjoy the rest of summer with your kids.
Laura Van Schaick-Harman, Psy.D., NCSP
NYS Licensed Psychologist Lic. # 019611
NYS Certified School Psychologist