Tips for Navigating the Back-To-School Transition

Heading back to school brings a range of emotions for both kids and parents.  On one hand, we hate to say goodbye to summer and the increased family time.  On the other hand, we’re ready to get back to a regular routine.  Parents appreciate having their kids constructively occupied during the day and many kids welcome the chance to see their friends again.  Still, getting back to a regular routine can be a big adjustment after the lazy days of summer.

The start of the school year means new schedules and routines, and new challenges as kids move up a grade or change schools. Here are a few tips to make the back-to-school transition a little smoother.

First-Time School

For young kids who are heading to full-day school for the first time, saying good-bye is often the hardest part for both the child and the parent.  Parenting expert Dr. Laura Markham has these tips for managing separation anxiety at school:

  • Help your child bond with his teacher.  If it doesn’t happen naturally, let the teacher know that your child is having difficulty adjusting and ask her to make a special effort to reach out to him until he settles in.
  • Encourage your child to bond with other students.  Ask the teacher if she notices whom your child is friendly with, or ask your child who she would like to invite for a play date.  Then arrange a casual get together.
  • Give your child something to help him feel connected to you during the day, such as a family photograph to keep in his desk or a token to carry in his pocket.
  • Create a good-bye ritual, such as a hug and saying, “I love you. You love me. Have a great day. See you at 3!”
  • Set aside time to connect with your child after school or at bedtime to talk about the day.  Be alert to your child’s fears and anxieties.  Reassure her that you always come back. Share positive stories about how you overcame your fears at school.  If your child continues to be anxious, make sure there isn’t something specific going on, like bullying or difficulty seeing the board.  Communicate with your child’s teacher if the anxiety continues and you can’t identify the cause.
  • Maintain a calm household with early bedtimes and enough time in the morning to avoid additional stress.

(Markham, n.d.)

Sending your child to kindergarten or full-day school for the first time can be hard on parents as well.  Many moms and dads get quite emotional at this milestone.  If your school offers a parent breakfast or orientation on the first day, take advantage of this opportunity to meet the other parents and get more acquainted with school administrators, PTA, etc.  Most likely, boxes of tissues will be available.

Returning to School

For older kids, returning to school can be an adjustment, even if the school is familiar.  Students often get shuffled, so your child will likely be with new kids and not his good friends from the previous year. Having to spend the entire day engaged and focused after weeks of downtime or less structured activity can be exhausting at first.  Parents can help their kids ease in with these simple tips.

  • Start having conversations about school, such as discussing what teacher(s) your child will have and what his schedule will be.  If available, look at the teacher’s website to get a sense of expectations and what the class will be like. (Elliott, 2015)
  • Implement some routines a few weeks in advance, such as going to bed and waking up at the regular time for school, and adjusting meal times to what they are during the school year.
  • Set up a homework area, and work with your child on strategies to stay organized during the year such as where to keep papers and supplies, as well as shoes, coats, backpacks and lunch boxes.
  • Have your child set goals for the year such as make two new friends or make honor roll.
  • Plan ahead for extra-curricular activities.  Integrate new interests or hobbies developed over the summer into the school year.

(Scholastic, n.d.)

Most kids adjust to the new school year pretty quickly, but if you have concerns, talk to your child’s teacher, the principal or the school counselor.

Starting a New School

Adjusting to a new school, whether moving to a new area, or just moving up to the next level, is exciting but can also create anxiety.  Giving your child a chance to get familiar with the school ahead of time can help relieve some of the nervousness.  Before making the switch, consider these tips.

  • Attend the school orientation, or schedule a visit to the school with your child.  In addition to learning where their classrooms are, new students can familiarize themselves with the location of the lockers, bathrooms, the auditorium, the cafeteria, the gym, and the main office, as well as where to get the bus.
  • Find out about special classes or extracurricular activities that might interest your child, such as debate team or track.  Look for activities to join before school starts as a way to meet future classmates.
  • Remind your child of other successful “firsts” she has experienced, such as starting kindergarten or attending summer camp as a way to build confidence.  Talk about times she reached out to make a new friend, and remind her how taking risks in this way can pay off.
  • Get involved with the school yourself.  Join PTA, get on a planning committee, or help out in the classroom.  Networking with other parents can help you and your children more quickly feel part of the community.

(Boyd, 2014)

Regardless of where your kids are in their school careers, you can maximize the chance of a successful summer-to-fall transition by having some patience and humor as your family adjusts.  Knowing your kids, having realistic expectations of what they can handle, not taking on too many new activities right away, sticking to before- and after-school routines, getting plenty of rest and eating well will go a long way toward maintaining a positive state of mind.  The first couple of weeks may be a little grumpy and bumpy, but everyone should settle in before too long.

To speak with a Maria Droste counselor about school-related questions or concerns, contact our Access Center at 303-867-4600.


Markham, L. (n.d.) 10 Tips for Helping Your Child Adjust to School.  Retrieved on August 19, 2016, from:

Elliott, M. (2015) 5 Tips to Help Parents Get Kids Adjusted to School.  Family & Children’s Services. Retrieved on August 19, 2016, from:

Scholastic (n.d.) 10 Tips to Make the Switch from Summer to School.  Retrieved on August 24, 2016, from

Boyd, H. (2014) 10 Ways to Help Your Child Adjust to a New School. Retrieved on August 19, 2016, from