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Parenting Pep Talk: Preparing for Back to School – Strategies for Success

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For parents and children, the end of summer signals an inevitable shift in routines and demands. Whether your child is beginning preschool or returning to college, you have to be mindful of the transition to make it a smooth one. Here are some tips for helping your child – and you – begin the school year calm and focused.

Most children alter their sleep cycles in the summer. If bedtime is 10pm all summer, but 8pm the night before school, it is going to be difficult for your child to adjust. People cannot make such a drastic change overnight, especially when they are anxious or excited about the following day. Talk to your child about the need to regulate his sleep, and begin at least two weeks before the first day of school. Rafael Pelayo, M.D., a pediatric sleep specialist, suggests that parents start slowly and have their children go to sleep 20 minutes earlier each night and wake 20 minutes earlier in the morning, working their way back to the necessary times. He also suggests making mornings pleasurable for a few days, while children get used to the new schedule. For example, allow your child to play his favorite video game upon waking. Lastly, avoid putting too much pressure on your child the night before school. He may be nervous or amped up about the following day, making sleeping difficult. Most likely the excitement of the first day will fuel his energy sufficiently to get him through the day, and he will be tired and back on schedule by the next night.

Young children beginning a new school or joining a new classroom benefit from visiting the school prior to the first day. Meeting teachers, seeing where various activities will be held, and familiarizing themselves with the new classroom go a long way toward alleviating anxiety. Some schools schedule the visits in small groups so that the children can socialize and get to know one another in a low pressure environment.

Parents and children should acquire as many materials as possible before the first day of school. Battling the stores during the afternoon of the first day can send even the calmest of parents into a frenzy. Ordering supplies online in August will save time and might alleviate some stress. Also, have children go through their closets and try on their clothes in August. After a summer of wearing casual clothing, you might be surprised by how much your child has grown when they attempt to fit into last year’s school clothes. In addition, a new outfit for the first day of school will excite some children and build confidence.

College students should return a few days early to familiarize themselves with new buildings and the time it takes to get from class to class. Their rooms and workspaces should be fully set up before class begins. It also helps for them to have time for reconnecting with friends so that socializing does not interfere with a successful beginning to the academic year.

Dr. Jaime Black is a licensed psychologist practicing in Westchester and New York City. In addition to providing general mental health services, Jaime works with individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum, doing psychotherapy, conducting evaluations, and facilitating social skills groups. Visit www.spectrumservicesnyc.com, e-mail JaimeBlackPsyD@gmail.com or call (914)712-8208.

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