Helping kids with back-to-school transitions

Going back to school after the summer can be a difficult transition for kids.

It can be especially hard for a child who’s entering a full-day kindergarten after being in a part-time preschool program the year before. The first few weeks of school may be especially trying, as it is a new routine and children are getting used to a new environment and new set of rules, but parents can help ease the transition into school.

The school day is a long day for young children and they will likely have many emotional needs when they get home. Kids may come home acting moody or cranky. Often, they’re also tired from the long day or could be hungry. The change in routine is also difficult for some children, and being away from home all day can be stressful.

Many children hold in their emotions all day while at school, so when they get home into an environment that feels like a safe space for them, those emotions tend to come out in full force.

As we work to respond to our children’s needs in a way that strengthens our relationship with them, it’s important to try to be patient and understanding of these emotions and to recognize why children are feeling this way. If these emotions lead to misbehavior, we can stay connected by acknowledging the feelings, connecting with our children, and then setting respectful limits.

Children all have different needs upon returning home from school, and as parents we may have to work to figure out what will best help our own children. Some kids need alone time, some may need plenty of outside time to run around, and others may need a way to relax and decompress.

When my oldest son entered kindergarten 2 years ago, I initially thought that when he came home, he’d just want to play with his toys that he hadn’t had access to all day or that he’d want to be outside. But all he wanted to do was watch TV. The more I encouraged him to play or planned afterschool trips to the park, the more upset and frustrated he would be that afternoon. It was a struggle for me to understand that he didn’t want to play and that he needed a way to relax.

I had to remind myself that when I come home after a busy outing, I usually just want to relax with a book. Then, I was able to recognize that he’s very much the same way. We eventually figured out several ways to make that happen. I was OK with television being one of those ways, but I didn’t want it to be the only one or our everyday routine.

Practicing Attachment Parenting also makes me aware of my children’s needs for connection and one-on-one time with me. This can be difficult when children are away at school for the majority of their day. By the time they come home, I’m already feeling tired from playing with my younger child throughout the day and I am almost ready to make dinner. However, I’ve had to make a real point to find ways to connect with them and to set aside time where we can play together.

We also have a consistent bedtime routine where I read to my sons and spend time with them in their bedroom before they fall asleep. Some days are certainly easier than others to make this happen, but their behavior, attitudes, and relationship with each other definitely seems to be better when we can make a point to be as attached as possible.

Stay involved in your child’s school life

By Michelle Calfee, an Ed.D. student at Carson Newman University

1361797_student_1I have worked in education for 15 years, and I have seen many different situations with students who go to school outside the home.

There are students who go home to parents who ask how their day was and have a genuine interest in their day at school. There are many active parents who volunteer at the school, participate in the PTA, discuss their child’s progress with teachers and ask questions of their child about school.

On the flip side, I have heard kids say, “My parents don’t care.” In many cases, these students often do not achieve at high academic levels and have a low self-esteem. During the years that I have been in education, students who have little parental involvement often have a low esteem and are hesitant to try when the work seems too hard. Many of these students act out in class, cause disruptions, are less likely to complete their work, and do not follow expectations or rules.

As a parent myself, I know that my involvement in my son’s education had a direct impact on his academic achievement and his self-esteem. My son is now 20 years old, and looking back at my involvement in his education, I realize there is still more I could have done to be active.

At the age of 4, Austin began playing sports. I attended every game, and we talked about every game on the way home. When he started school, we added things about school to our conversation. We discussed what he did at school, what he learned, how his friends were, how his teacher was and anything else that happened during his school day. I was an active parent in his early years.

As Austin started middle school and high school, I was not as active as when he was younger. Every day I asked Austin, “How was your day?” He always answered, “Fine.” As he grew older, I often settled for that answer and didn’t inquire as much as I should have.

After looking at all of research about the importance of parental involvement, I know now what I could have done more of when he was in middle and high school. During his middle school years, I could have volunteered more at the school. In addition, I could have had more parent-teacher meetings and ask specific questions about what was going on with Austin. When I contacted Austin’s teachers, it was typically over a question, issue or concern. There were few times I checked in with the teacher just to see how Austin was doing.

Homework was always an issue for Austin and me. Austin played football, basketball and baseball, and there were times when two sports were going on at once. As a single parent, it was a struggle to get him home from school, dinner cooked, driven to practice on time and to make sure he had the things necessary to complete his homework. Austin always did his homework, but it was a constant argument everyday about getting it finished. Looking back now, what really would have helped with homework is setting a specific time each day to complete his work.

There are different types of parental involvement:

  1. Actively involved — the student is more likely to achieve at higher rates and develop a higher self-esteem.
  2. Involved — the student still achieves but not has highly as those whose parents are actively involved.
  3. Not involved at all — the student is more likely to drop out of school, have lower performance, have high absenteeism and make poor choices.

Parental involvement is not just about a parent being in the same house as their child or showing up to an open house or meeting at their child’s school. Parental involvement is about the parent being actively involved with the child and their education. Parental involvement is not an easy task. It is very time consuming and a lot of work. However, your child needs you to be involved and needs your support. Being an active parent can save you a lot time and headaches later in your child’s life. Your level of involvement will directly impact their academic achievement and mental health.

To be actively involved, talk to your child about what they are learning in school. Your involvement does not mean you have to understand the content or know how to do the work your child is doing. But you can ask your child what they are working on in school. When you do this, you are sending your child a message that what they are doing is important to you. In addition, you are telling your child that you believe their education is important.

In addition to talking to your child about homework, attend school meetings and functions and participate in the events. Anyone can just show up to the school for whatever the event may be. But to be an active parent, you must have a purpose or an expected outcome of what you want or expect to happen as a result of the meeting. An example of this is when you meet with your child’s teacher, ask questions and leave with answers. Make sure you are aware of what the meeting is for and that you have a follow-up plan afterwards.

Parents who are involved make sure their child completes their homework and attends events. These parents stay informed of how their child is doing, but may not be actively involved. Often times the parent who is involved may attend meetings, meet teachers at open house events and provide supplies for teachers in their classroom. However, they may not always ask questions at the school events or have a purpose in attending. This type of involvement has a positive impact on the child’s success but may not always push the child to achieve at a higher level.

There are some students who overcome the odds that are against them, but students are more likely to not value their education when their parents show little interest in education. If you do not know how to be involved in your child’s education, contact your child’s school and teachers. This is encouraged at all grade levels.

Continue to talk to your child. Ask them questions each day like, “What did you learn in English (or math, and so on)? How was band?” Or even ask them how their teacher is doing. Ask them how they did on a specific assignment that you had helped with or that they told you about. When your child tells you about something that happened in class or at school, follow up on what happened later in the week.

The more you ask, the more you will know about what is going on with your child. The more you know, the more you can help them in this important area of their life.

Taking Attachment Parenting to School

My firstborn Hannah is now 5 years old, and we have decided to enroll her in our local public school for kindergarten. We made this decision for a number of reasons, but mostly what it comes down to is that this is what works best for our family. We all have to make our own choices when it comes to school and separating from our children (or not).

As I write this, school has already started, but Hannah is still at home. At our school new kindergartners attend the first day to take attendance and get assigned their classes. Then their parents meet one-on-one with the kindergarten teacher before class gets underway. Once those meetings are all complete there will be a gradual entry process before we get into the full swing of things. We are still very much in the preparation stages before starting kindergarten.

So far, I have been quite impressed by our interactions with the school. Hannah’s teacher is caring and compassionate. She looks at the students as whole people, and at this stage she is focused more on social and emotional skills, rather than academic milestones. The kindergarten classroom contains a variety of toys and materials, including spaces for imaginative and dramatic play.

Even though I am confident in our choice of school, I still have fears as we embark on this journey. I think this is normal. I wonder how will things turn out, and what will Hannah think of school. My own school experiences played a large role in my childhood, and I know they will in Hannah’s, too. As her mother, I hope that her experiences are as positive as possible.

Outside the school
Hannah outside of the school on the first day of kindergarten

To help make the transition into public school gentle for Hannah, I’m looking for ways to remain connected. I believe that a secure attachment can make a big difference to children, even as they grow older and naturally move towards greater independence. And so I’m developing an attachment parenting style for my school-aged child. Here’s what it looks like so far:

  • I involve Hannah in choosing school snacks, school clothes, school supplies and so on. I want her to have a say in the decisions I make surrounding school.
  • My husband and I both attended the welcoming conversation with her teacher, and agreed on some goals for Hannah’s entry into school. We want to all be on the same page.
  • I am volunteering as a Girl Guide leader with Hannah’s unit, and I plan to volunteer in her classroom as I am able. I want to be involved with Hannah’s education and extra-curricular activities, while still maintaining a personal balance of my own.
  • I am helping Hannah work through her emotions surrounding the new school. She is very excited but also a little bit nervous, and I am doing my best to listen to her, validate her feelings and empower her to handle this transition.
  • We have visited the school playground and had some playdates with the children who will be in Hannah’s class, so that she has some familiarity with the school and children before starting.

I am confident that with a little bit of nurturing, we can maintain a strong attachment throughout Hannah’s school years. This is a big change for us, but also an exciting one. Parenting is never short of adventures, and now we’re starting on a new one together.

Do you have school-age children? How have you helped them to handle the transition into school? What worked, and what didn’t? I could use more tips, if you have them!

You can catch up with Amber’s adventures on her blog at