Back to School: Six Strategies to Ease the Transition

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

It’s August 1st.  You know what that means, right?  For my kids, 24 days until school starts.  Others have the luxury of starting after Labor Day (about 32 days left). But who’s counting? (haha)

For most of us, summer is winding down- summer camps, vacations, barbeques, time at the pool, and so on.  Hopefully everyone has been enjoying it, since for most things tend to slow down a bit.  But inevitably, school is just around the corner.  This means: getting up earlier; going to bed earlier; packing lunches or making sure our kids have lunch money; homework; fundraisers; sports; lugging instruments and other equipment; and more.

The transition from summer to school isn’t always an easy one.  Some kids begin to get tired of summer and look forward to the start of school- if only to see their friends or to wear some new clothes.  Others resent summer’s end and quite literally go back kicking and screaming- or perhaps not fully there yet or half-comatose.  This can make for a rough few weeks for the entire family, but hopefully not much more- like poor grades, disciplinary problems, or concern being expressed on the part of the school.  Whatever the case, you can do some things now to ease the transition.  By all means, enjoy the rest of the summer.  Live it up and have fun, but start planting the seed early that school will be here and we need to start to get ready.

Keeping this in mind, here are some tips I put together, based on my own experience as a parent and a psychologist, in addition to a few resources I found:

1.    By August (or as soon as you read this, if you have not already), make sure your child has at least started any summer reading or projects.  Take a look at it and see what exactly he needs to do and how much time might be required.  Then, make a plan.  Have your child commit to a set amount of time per day- possibly 30 minutes, to work on it.  Check on his progress to see that it gets done- at some point before the last minute.

2.    About two weeks before school starts, set and enforce a bedtime.  Some parents still have a bedtime over the summer, while others do not.  That depends on your style and what your child has going on- possibly summer camps, daycare, a job, and so forth.  For example, if bedtime is 8:00pm during the school year (for a young child), start going to bed at 9 or 8:30 about two weeks before school starts.  Then, with a week to go, try to get closer to the actual school bedtime- 8:30 or 8:15.  If your child likes to read before bed, perhaps allow him to stay up a little later, provided that he is in bed reading.  Again, this is up to you, but the point is to not have your child go to bed at 11:00 one night, and then try to get him to go to bed at 8:00 the next.  It just won’t work.

3.    If you have a child who likes to sleep late- such as a teenager who will sleep til noon, ask her to start waking up earlier in the two weeks before school starts.  If you follow #2, this may happen naturally.  Many teens I work with get into the habit of staying up regularly until 1, 2, or 3am during the summer, which of course leads to sleeping late.  But if they’re going to bed at a decent hour (say 10 or 11), it’s likely they’ll begin to wake up earlier anyway.  Either way, you might ask your child to set an alarm- even if it’s for 9am, later than when she would need to wake for school.

4.    If you set limits on technology or screens- video games, TV, iPods, cell phones, computers, etc. during the school year, start to scale back in the week or two before school starts.  Some children might have free reign over the summer, while others might just have a lot more time.  Again, the same rule applies.  It will be difficult to go from no limit to something like an hour a day overnight.

5.    If you expect any amount of self-sufficiency from your child and this has loosened up over the summer, increase your expectations in the two weeks before school starts.  Ask her to make her bed, to get dressed when she wakes up in the morning (rather than lounge around in PJs for 3 hours), and to eat breakfast.  You may expect more help with chores as well.  School time involves a lot of routine, so the shock will be greatly reduced if you start getting back into a routine well before school starts.

6.    Get yourself prepared.  The return to school can be a shock for parents, too.  Plan ahead.  Try to do your school shopping- for clothes, shoes, school supplies, and so forth before the last minute.  Make sure your children have anything else that they need, including any forms or paperwork, sports physicals, or educational testing taken care of in enough time.  And be sure you have a plan for before or after school care, transportation, or any adjustments to your work schedule.  If your child has a therapist, a tutor, or any other supports, you might want to connect with them before school starts- to get something scheduled or in the event that their services are needed.  Use the week or two before school starts to get yourself back into the school mindset.

This isn’t the be-all and end-all of back to school preparedness, but if you do these things your transition should be much easier.  And the two weeks I noted for most of these is somewhat arbitrary, but I expect most children to resist any change you try to make.  It takes at least two weeks to get into a habit so I doubt one would be enough.  Whatever you decide, I encourage you to be firm and consistent, rather than giving in to any bargaining from your child to put it off.

If you expect a difficult time or find yourself having one, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional such as a psychologist- either for yourself, your child, or another loved one.  You can find a referral here or here.  Take care.

Dr. Jesse Matthews is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Chester Springs, PA.  He helps people of all ages to address many kinds of issues.  You can view his Psychology Today profile here.  For any questions or to arrange an appointment, please contact him at 610-482-4496 or 

About Dr. Jesse Matthews

I'm a private practice psychologist and director of Matthews Counseling & Coaching in Chester Springs, PA. I provide counseling and coaching services to people ages 18 and up. My specialties include: depression; addiction/substance abuse; relationships; anxiety; ADHD and behavioral issues; and Autism/Asperger's. Our group works with individuals of all ages, families, and couples, and we help people with a wide variety of life issues. Check out the practice website for information on other clinicians and their services: .
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