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  • Writer's picturePaula Robertson

Navigating the Back-to-School Transition: a guide for parents

Tips for surviving the return to school in the new school year

As the end of the long July – August vacation approaches, I typically feel a mix of emotions – apprehension at the resumption of early morning routines and traffic, mixed with relief and anticipation about getting the kids back into some semblance of routine and activities. So imagine how our children feel! No matter their age, they are probably feeling some excitement, anticipation and maybe nervousness about starting school or going back to school for the new academic year. The good news is there’s a lot we can do as parents to help them get ready for the new term and start of a new school year. Here are some tips:

Keep Open Communication. Maintain open lines of communication with your child about their feelings, concerns, and expectations for the upcoming school year. Try to create a safe space where they can freely express their thoughts and feelings. By addressing their worries and excitement, you'll be better equipped to provide the support they need.

Re-establish Routines. During the school vacation, routines inevitably become more relaxed, as they should. However, re-establishing a consistent routine is important for kids. As the school year approaches, gradually reintroduce regular schedules, meal times, and study periods. Consistent routines provide a sense of stability and help children adjust to the demands of the school day. You could even write out the steps in the routine (for example homework, playtime, bath time and pre-bedtime reading) and rehearse them with your child before the term starts.

Early to bed. Getting back into a school sleep schedule doesn’t just happen overnight. A few weeks before school starts, start to gradually get your child into the habit of going to bed earlier. I usually bring bedtime forward by 30 minutes every few days, until we’re at the usual school term bedtime a few days before the start of the new term. Gentle winding-down activities such as bath time and reading before bed can also help your child relax during this transition phase and throughout the term.

Visit the School. If possible, take your child to visit the school before the first day. Some schools may even allow an introduction day for the first year students, allowing them to acclimatize before the rest of the school arrives. Allowing them to familiarize themselves with the school environment, classrooms, and layout can help ease anxiety.

Embrace Back-to-School Shopping! Involve your child as much as possible in shopping for school supplies, unforms and clothes. Let them choose items they like, which can boost their excitement about going back to school. Packing their backpack with new supplies can help create a sense of readiness.

Discuss Goals. Help your child set achievable goals for the upcoming school year. Encourage them to think about what they'd like to accomplish academically, socially, and personally. This can give them a sense of purpose and motivation.

Organizational Skills. Help your child organize their study space and supplies at home. Particularly in the case of older children, it’s important to teach them effective organization strategies like using folders, notebooks, and a calendar to keep track of assignments, tests, and extracurricular activities.

Encourage Independence. As your child grows, it's important to foster independence. Encourage them to take responsibility for tasks like packing their own lunch, organizing their backpack, and managing their schedule. Is your child old enough for chores like washing the dishes or making lunches? Then let them get involved and take responsibility for tasks like these. Daily, age-appropriate tasks will help your child gain independence and confidence.

Manage Screen Time. Set clear guidelines for screen time, especially during the school week. Excessive screen time can interfere with sleep and productivity, so try to create a balance between homework, outdoor activities, and recreational screen time. I advocate for establishing a ‘family screen time contract’ which everyone signs up to, and it’s then prominently displayed on the fridge as a reminder. You can find a screen plan template at

Encourage Healthy Lifestyle Choices. Promote a healthy lifestyle by emphasizing the importance of balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep. Involve your children in choosing and preparing brain-healthy lunches and snacks, and help them find physical activities they enjoy. These factors significantly impact your child's energy levels, concentration, and overall well-being.

Be Patient and Empathetic. Remember that transitioning back to school can be overwhelming for some children, so try to be patient and empathetic as they learn to adapt to new routines and social dynamics. Validate their feelings and offer a listening ear whenever they need it. It may be helpful to talk about first-week jitters, and reassure your child that being nervous is natural. You can help your child cope with these big feelings when you:

  • Let them express their fears. Perhaps you can offer stories of your own first-day jitters when you were a child.

  • Teach them to breathe deeply and slowly to calm their nerves.

  • Discuss and work through the scenarios that worry them. For example, if they’re worried about who to sit with or talk to on the first day, help them plan a strategy and rehearse it so they’ll know what to do in the moment.

Try to limit over-scheduling. While extracurricular activities are important, avoid over-scheduling your child's week. Leaving enough time for rest, relaxation, and unstructured free play is essential for their emotional and mental well-being.

Celebrate their achievements. Celebrate both big and small achievements throughout the school year. Recognizing their efforts, progress, and accomplishments will motivate your child to stay engaged and continue working hard.

The transition back to school is a significant milestone in every child's life, and by fostering open communication, routines, and a supportive environment, you can help your child embrace the new school year with enthusiasm and confidence. Remember that each child is unique, so tailor your approach to their individual needs and personalities. With your guidance, they'll be ready to embark on a year of learning, growth, and exciting new experiences.

Be well, Paula

Dr Paula Robertson is a busy mom and a paediatrician with over twenty years' experience working with young people and their families. She is also a certified children's mindfulness teacher and Positive Discipline Parenting coach. You can find out more at

Our AI wellness assistant has contributed to the writing of this article.

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