Stories

Transitioning Back to School Routines

Aug 5, 2022
Wellbeing

It’s that time again. All the late nights staying up late watching movies or playing video games; no homework and no studying (unless you have an avid child); freedom to play all day in the sun in the dog days of summer! Taking the family out of town for vacation and enjoying new adventures. It's time to say “See ya later”  because

CLASS IS IN SESSION.

Many of you may be having a happy dance at the thought of your children going back to school but before you do that, we need to prepare them.

Children ages from kindergarten to seniors in high school need a transition from the summer freedoms. If we don’t allow them time to transition, not only will they have hiccups, but we, parents and guardians, will need to deal with calming the tantrums or teenage mood swings. 

To paint a better picture, if your child has been sleeping in until 9 am every morning (some later till noon!), you cannot expect them to wake up at 6 am for 5 days straight for school. The circadian rhythm in a child is unique to that of an adult. They will run into the problem of falling asleep in class and having a dreadful mood. Additionally, children who do sleep their recommended hours have been shown to improve their academic performance, reduce risk behaviors and improve mood. (Wheaton et Al., 2016)

Transitioning your children’s schedule will depend on one thing. How long does it take your child to adapt to those changes? Some children need one week prior to the first day of school, while others may only need 4 days. You will need to make the decision that is best for your child. 

If you have a child in elementary school, middle school, or high school, here is some evidence-based research that can guide you to transitioning your children from our summers to getting to class at their best. 

All Children Need and Desire Structure.

When summer breaks out, our children’s schedule changes. They no longer need to go to bed or wake up at a certain time. So, it is important to talk to your child no matter if they are 4 years old or 17 years old, about the expectations you have for them a few weeks before school begins. In your conversation, you want to address the new bedtimes and new wake-up times. What rules will you have for them when they come home from school? Is it to complete their homework soon after arriving home from school? Are they allowed to play video games or watch television after completing their homework? Will they have a home-cooked meal ready for them when they arrive home from school or do they find something in the freezer to pop in the microwave? These routines will allow the child to learn how to control their behaviors. Consistency allows boundaries and expectations to be set, which actually provides children/teenagers with a sense of safety. Additionally, this structure helps the parents have a balance in their busy schedules.

Start going to Sleep Early.

Multiple studies have shown teenagers who do not get enough sleep have a higher chance of reduced attention and poor academic performance. One other study shared that insufficient sleep in children has a higher risk of excess weight, decreased physical activity, and increased food intake. Without having any professional to tell us how important sleep is for our children, parents and guardians must become experts on that subject, learning after our children throw tantrums or give an attitude for not sleeping. That’s enough evidence for many. 

To understand more about the importance sleep has on our children here is the science:

As our children are growing, their body is using a lot of resources from their system to help their body grow and their brains develop. Having that said, they need to allow their body to rest and refuel for another busy day. If they do not get enough sleep, a lot of problems will start to show. Researchers are accumulating a solid body of evidence that sleep-deprived children are more susceptible to poor mental health such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. In another 2013 study, researchers also concluded that teenagers were at higher risk of unhealthy risk behaviors such as alcohol use, tobacco smoking, marijuana use, use of prescription drugs, unhealthy weight (to include a negative self-image), and sexual activity(Maski KP and Kothare SV, 2013). All of these issues make sense since they did not give their body a chance to rest and refuel, their body is looking for ways to find a “balance”. 

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Children 3 to 5 years - 10 to 13 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps). (Head start)
  • Children 6 to 12 years - 9 to 12 hours of sleep every 24 hours. (Elementary)
  • Teens 13 to 18 years - 8 to 10 hours of sleep every 24 hours. (Middle and High schoolers)

These are just recommendations. Keep in mind every child is different and some children may need more hours of sleep than is recommended. For example, if your child is in a sport or active activity after school, they may need more sleep. Remember, sleep is to help your child grow and repair. 

Start slowly.

Start going to bed earlier in July or a month before the first day of school starts. A child who was going to bed every night at 1 am will have a hard time going to bed at 8 pm. A gradual approach works well behaviorally and physiologically. So try moving the sleep time to 11 pm, and then as we get closer to school, move the bedtime up to 10 pm and so forth. This will help your child easily transition to the new sleep schedule and help you avoid the crazy morning chaos. Here are tips for helping your children go to bed on their designated times:

  1. Keep their bedroom quiet and have a comfortable temperature.
  2. Avoid large meals before bedtime. 
  3. Avoid sweets and caffeine close to bedtime. 
  4. Remove electronic devices from their rooms or avoid any electronic use 2 hours before bedtime. 
  5. Have a bedtime routine. This is going back to having a structure. Have children take a bath, wash their teeth, read a bedtime story, etc. before bed. 

Prepare and set up their homework space.

If you home school or you send your children to school, they need a place for them to be able to complete their homework assignments at home. A clean desk free from last year’s school clutter will enable the child to focus on their school work. If you don’t have a desk for them then make sure they have a place they can comfortably do their homework. It can be the dining room table or a side nook. Children need a space where they can focus on their learning.

Remember, learning does not stop at school. Children always come home on the last day of school with old papers and old notebooks. Clean out their backpacks (this also helps to find snacks we don’t want to find 3 months later) and clean their desk space to get them mentally prepared. This will minimize distractions while they do their homework and will help you get organized. Make sure the area is lighted by a window that lets in natural light, or by having a lamp. Have pencils and pens accessible to get thing accomplished.

Meet the teacher.

Participating in the meet the teacher day before school starts is a great way to learn what are the teacher’s expectations. This will also allow your child to learn where their classroom will be and meet the teacher before being left alone on their first day of school. Hence, this allows the child to have more confidence on their first day and reduces their anxiety. Typically, the teacher has a list of supplies your child will need on their first day of school. Being prepared with the school supplies your child needs will help them feel ready for their first day. 

Remember, the transition is not always easy. It is important to recognize the different feelings your child will be feel going back to school. Many children experience anxiety just with the thought of going back to school because they are entering a new class and new environment. Young children can experience separation anxiety during the first few days of school (demonstrated when they cry after you drop them off). Older children who are transitioning from elementary to middle school or high school, also have their anxieties that are different in each age level. It’s important to talk to your children about their feelings about going back to school. This will allow them to process their own thoughts and perhaps help them identify feelings they did not know they had. In addition, this is helping the child to express their feelings to their parents and build a relationship of trust. 

Finally, make sure all parents and guardians are on the same page on schedules and expectations, so that structure is consistent. Children learn early on what and with who they can get away with things. It is crucial everyone is on the same page most if not ALL the time.

Reference:

Wheaton AG, Chapman DP, Croft JB. School Start Times, Sleep, Behavioral, Health, and Academic Outcomes: A Review of the Literature. J Sch Health. 2016 May;86(5):363-81. doi: 10.1111/josh.12388. PMID: 27040474; PMCID: PMC4824552.

Maski KP, Kothare SV. Sleep deprivation and neurobehavioral functioning in children. Int J Psychophysiol. 2013 Aug;89(2):259-64. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2013.06.019. Epub 2013 Jun 22. PMID: 23797147.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 15). Do your children get enough sleep? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 30, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/children-sleep.htm

There are a lot of things to consider when preparing for back to school time, but you do not have to do it alone. Click HERE to learn more about the Wellview services available to you. Our Mental Health Specialists are here to support you today. We look forward to working with you!

– Yajaira Escobedo, LMSW, LCDC, TFCBT, CCTP

Mental Health Specialist | Email Yajaira

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