Top 5 Tips for a Successful Back to School


Back to school is always met with a range of emotions for both parents and kids. No one wants to see the end of summer, yet enthusiasm about a new school year often takes over. Going back to school is yet another transition a child faces. Transitions sometimes get a bad rap, as many parents worry about new changes, new friends, new rules, and growing up. Yet transitions prepare kids for the fluctuations of life and help them build resilience.

In my practice, I see many children who struggle significantly with returning to school. Since I specialize in pediatric anxiety, I see a lot of kids burdened by worries. For these kids, back to school means a head full of questions about the unknown: Will I like my teacher? Will I like the other kids? Will other kids like me? Will I fit in? What if I get made fun of? What if the work is too hard?

Even positive change and happy transitions create anxiety for some kids. The anticipation of an event with unknown factors can be challenging for even the most resilient of kids. There is good news, though! Through some easy preparation, you and your child are able to team together to create a positive and fun return to school.

By starting off the school year on a positive note, families are able to create positive habits that will last all year.

  • Help your child set realistic goals. Talk about what might be hard about this year and what is exciting about this year. Help your child think about concrete, tangible aspects of the new school year to create a mental picture of the year. For example, help your child visualize what it will be like to change classes every period if this is a new concept. Or help your child become excited about algebra, since she is already so good at math. Set goals for grades and talk about what it will feel like to earn those grades.

  • Set good habits early. Not many kids like homework, especially when it is still August and sunny outside. From day one, structure after school time so the fun stuff comes after homework – doing so creates a natural incentive to complete schoolwork. Some children thrive on structure (some need less), so create a natural and consistent routine each day after school. For example, snack, homework, playtime, bath, relaxation time, then bedtime. Create a visual calendar for the week/month so children can mark time and know when they have extracurricular activities, sports and play dates.

  • Help your child’s body prepare for school before school starts. About a week (or more) before school starts, ease your child into your typical school routine, especially regarding after school routines and bedtime. Sleep is critical to children; thus, their bodies need time to adjust to the sleeping regimen typical of the school year. Help your kids learn to wind down and relax before going to bed, as doing so enhances sleep. Lack of sleep is one of the most detrimental factors in children’s academic performance. Build good sleep hygiene before school begins!

  • Normalize fears and concerns and problem-solve. Help your child explore any worries. Help him or her to understand these concerns are not only normal, but other kids also feel the same way. Problem-solve worries. When your child relays a concern, use an open-ended question to ask them how they might solve the issue. Try not to answer the question for them or reassure right away. Given the opportunity, your child may have great solutions on his or her own – reinforce these solutions!

  • Meet new teachers, tour schools and meet new kids. When kids are able to visualize new things, anxiety is reduced. Take advantage of open houses and other opportunities to meet new teachers and students and see the new classroom.

Help your child celebrate new routines and changes. Have fun and enjoy the school year!


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Opinions expressed on the site and in the blog are based on Dr. Ranttila's years of education and experience. These are general statements and should not be used in place of individualized assessment and treatment.