Planning and Flexibility Help Kids Start the School Year Right

Starting the New School Year on the Right Foot

The start of a new school year can be an anxious time for families, and two years of Covid-disrupted learning and routines have added to the challenge.

Teens are exhausted from Zoom classes that for many students made learning harder. Younger children might have not yet experienced full-time classroom instruction. And parents’ routines have been scrambled by working and schooling at home.

With careful planning, open communication and flexibility, however, parents can smooth the way for their children and themselves as we enter this new normal, says Cory Costa, LMHC, a Behavioral Health Clinician at the Southcoast Health Pediatric Practice in Dartmouth.

“I tell parents to own the chaos,” Costa said. “Be open about the changes that kids will experience with school. And then listen to their concerns.”

Set expectations.

“Adults don’t like surprises, and kids are pretty similar,” Costa said. “They don’t like unexpected changes day to day.”

Explain the new routine to your children, with bedtimes, deadlines for getting up and out the door, and homework time. Rules on the use of technology should also be clear, such as one hour of gaming after homework is done.

Be flexible.

“I’m a big believer in re-setting expectations a number of times during the year with kids,” Costa said.

When a routine isn’t working, talk to your child and adjust your expectations. Children who can’t settle down to do homework, for instance, may need more time in the backyard. Kids, especially younger ones, usually need to blow off steam after a day in the classroom.

When sports and activities start, adjust with new homework and dinner times.

Bring your child into the conversation

“A family meeting can be a good way of building communications,” she said. “At end of day, parents still are in charge. but we can all do a better job of listening to our kids.”

Overachievers may be anxious underneath, while underachievers may have a learning difference or be suffering social problems.

Listen to your children’s worries, but don’t jump in with solutions. Acknowledge their fears and balance them with a counterpoint. For instance, you can say, “It’s sad that you don’t know anyone in your new class, but think of the new friends you will meet.”

Observe and plant seeds

“High schoolers see their parents as always wrong,” Costa said. Even middle schoolers may not want to talk to you about their fears, but their behavior will give you clues to what’s on their mind.

If your child complains about headaches and stomach aches, for instance, you might say something like “I get headaches and stomach aches when I am anxious.”

“Then just walk away,” Costa said. You are making their experience feel normal and opening the door to a future conversation.

Take advantage of school resources

Every school has a student adjustment counselor or social worker whose job is to support students and ensure that depression, anxiety, learning differences or other problem do not impede their success.

“They are amazing resources,” she said. “And parents often don’t know that they are there to help.”