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August 12, 2014

School Health Expert Shares Advice on How to Manage a Successful Transition 

New York (August 12, 2014) – No matter if your child is starting their first day of Pre-K or their last year of high school, back-to-school season can often stir feelings of anxiety, stress and even fear. While many of these feelings quickly dissipate once the child makes friends and settles into their new environment, some children find the transition to a new grade or school a little more difficult.

“The key to reducing back-to-school jitters is open lines of communication and creating a sense of normalcy and calm,” said Kari Collins, Ph.D., director of mental health services at the Montefiore School Health Program. “Most children will experience a few nerves, but there are resources available that parents and kids can use to help the transition go a little more smoothly and help to boost success throughout the school year.”

Here are some tips for a smooth start to the new school year:

Lead by example:f

Maintain a positive attitude when talking about the new grade or school – highlight how exciting it is to meet new people and make new friends. Children can sense when their parent is anxious so remain upbeat and optimistic.

  • Let your child know that being nervous is a normal feeling and reassure them they will feel more comfortable as time goes on. Share examples of how you felt during your first day at school or a new job and explain that these feelings can be overcome.

Preparation is key:

Do walk-throughs: Visit the school campus ahead of time and arrange to meet the teacher. This will help to make your child familiar with the environment and more at ease with the new surroundings.

  • Gradually transition kids to an earlier bed and wake-up time. Begin a week before school starts by moving everything in the routine back 15 minutes, for example move dinner to 6.30pm instead of 6.45pm, bath time then happens earlier, as does reading and bedtime.
  • Prepare your child for the shift in routine by involving them in the process; give them a sense of control over the routine, explaining how the evening is going to roll out.
  • Do activities to prepare for the school day together – buy necessary items such as books, pens, lunchboxes etc. together and pack their backpack and make lunches together.
  • For older kids who have a hectic schedule, create a diary of weekly commitments and a daily checklist to make sure the violin isn’t left at home when the child has band practice.
  • If possible, the first week back is a good time for parents and extended family to do the school drop-off and pick-up. This will help the child get into the routine with your support and help you identity any immediate concerns.

Practical parenting:

For preschoolers, set up group play-dates with other children to help them prepare for their new shared environment.

  • For pre-k and elementary kids, teach them how to introduce themselves to new people. Role play and practice saying “Hi, my name is Jane; what’s yours?” Of course it’s important to emphasize the difference between talking to peers and strangers.

Teen troubles:

While many parents get the impression their teen wants to handle things on their own, it’s important to know what’s going on in your child’s life and offer support and guidance. Get to know the parenting coordinator at school, register for email updates to be alerted about exams, college fairs, application deadlines and big sporting events. Sign up to receive the academic calendar and make sure you check-in with your teen when an important date is approaching so you can offer assistance and let them know you’re there for them.

  • Let your child choose one after-school activity. They may want to join the cheerleading squad while you want them to join the math club. Provide support and guidance, with the final decision being the result of compromise and what makes most sense for your teen’s schedule and level of commitment.
  • High school can be the most trying time of all, with more intense academic pressures and a new peer group, it can take longer to adjust. However if you’re still concerned about your teen’s ability to cope with their new environment after the first month of school, seek out resources and assistance from the guidance counselor.   
  • Help middle and high-school kids feel comfortable expressing their frustrations and stress. And, work on a plan together to make their commitments more manageable.

“The transition to any grade level can be anxiety-producing, especially if it involves moving to a new school,” said Dr. Collins. “The key is not letting the information chain drop. It’s a parent’s responsibility to know what’s happening in their child’s life and address any issues together. Offering support, guidance and positive reinforcement goes a long way in helping your child succeed at school.”

The Montefiore School Health Program is the largest hospital-sponsored program in the country offering students in elementary, middle and high schools and their families a wide range of medical, dental, mental and community-based services. The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM) is consistently ranked among the nation’s leading children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. Its physicians and staff are making extraordinary contributions in the field of children’s health, working to curb prevalent problems including obesity, diabetes and asthma. As part of a premier academic medical center, and the pediatric hospital for Albert Einstein College of Medicine, CHAM is dedicated to training the next generation of pediatric healthcare professionals and transforming the future of children’s health.