6 Tips for Sending Kids Back to School After Breaks
During your child’s extended breaks from school, it’s easy for them to fall out of a routine. For days or weeks, kids no longer have to wake up early for school, so they may stay in their pajamas, go to bed later and spend most of the day playing or in front of a screen. When the break is over, the return to school may be a challenging adjustment for both students and parents.
How can you make the change as easy as possible?
Kelly Henchel, medical director of the General Pediatrics Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Barry Solomon, director of the Division of General Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, discuss six steps to help your kids get back into the school routine after a holiday or prolonged break.
1. Don’t Let Return to School Sneak Up on Children
While there is a countdown to the start of winter and spring break and some pomp and circumstance regarding the end of summer break, the end of those breaks can seem to end abruptly. For younger kids, make a calendar to help remind them of the return to school, and have older children and adolescents write it on their own calendar or enter it in their cellphone. A calendar can also be a helpful reminder for teens of school assignments they have during a break.
“I love using a calendar to plan out the holiday breaks,” says Henchel. “For younger children, they can help by finding pictures representing the goals or tasks to make the calendar more meaningful. They can even illustrate the calendar with bedtime clocks, play dates or projects. For the older kids, planning to complete their work ahead can also be placed on the calendar, and they can be rewarded before returning to school.”
2. Return of the School Sleep Schedule
Whether the student is a 5-year-old or a 15-year-old, getting enough sleep at night is critical to their ability to learn. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says that without enough sleep, children and teens are more likely to have behavior, learning and attention problems when they return to school. Lack of sleep also places them at a higher risk of developing a variety of health issues, including:
It’s important to transition youth back to their regular sleep patterns before they return to school. For younger children in particular, move bedtime back 15 to 20 minutes during the nights leading up to return to school until your child is back on a school sleep schedule.
“It’s important to have all parents and caregivers on the same page with an earlier bedtime,” says Solomon. “While kids may be disappointed initially, getting back to their pre-break schedule will result in a happier, healthier child and a less hectic morning.”
3. Let’s talk about it
Talk to your child or teen about upcoming school events, projects they may have forgotten about and what they’re looking forward to when they go back to school. You can also discuss worries they may have about returning to the structure of school and re-engaging with peers. This can help relieve anxieties and remind them of what they like about going to school. For older kids, after the winter break, it may be helpful to set academic New Year’s resolutions.
“Keeping a few school-like activities in place during break, like reading, practicing math problems or doing science experiments instead of having an excess of screen time, can also help kids transition back to the classroom,” Henchel says.
4. Show them who their friends are
For some students, returning to the classroom means returning to the pressure and hard work associated with school, especially for students in middle school and high school. If your child is fretting about going back to school, try setting up a small play date with their school friends (for older kids, encourage them to connect in person with friends over the break). This can remind them of the friends they have and that returning to school can be fun. It also breaks the ice after having not seen their classmates in a while, which can make them more confident as they reenter the classroom.
“During a break, adolescents may stay connected on social media,” Solomon says. “However, isolation could set in if they see a group of friends having fun without them. I encourage parents to check in regularly with their teen and continue to monitor their social media use.”
5. Avoid the trap of putting off important school tasks
Kids are apt to forget about homework that is due after break, or obtaining supplies they need when returning to the classroom. Putting off these activities can cause undue stress for both children and parents. Remind older children about their assignments throughout the break so they don’t feel rushed and harried before going back to school. You can take your kids shopping for school supplies during after-holiday sales to help them look forward to using the supplies in the classroom.
Also, you can set yourself and your kids up for success by prepping the night before school starts. Try laying out your child’s clothes, prepare easy breakfasts and lunches, and pack their backpacks to help make the first day back less stressful.
“Celebrate the time your child has been out of school and the return to learning,” Henchel says. “A special dinner, snack, or trip to the library or bookstore after they return can help positively frame learning for your child.”
6. It’s OK not to be OK
Despite your best efforts, your child may still have mixed feelings when returning to school after a break, and that is perfectly normal. Encourage your child or teen to express how they feel, and contact the support network at the school if they’re struggling.
If your child has a hard time getting out the door during the first week back to school, let a teacher or other school staff members know. This gives the school a heads-up that the student may need a breather, and it lets your child know that both you and their teacher will support them as they return to school.
Though it may take a little time, your child should soon be back in the swing of things. If all goes well during the first few weeks back at school, consider a small celebration — in the form of a weekend activity that your child can look forward to.