Managing the Back to School Transition with Your Child

By Dr. Lea Martinell

It’s back to school time!  Many parents are looking forward to predictable schedules and routines again!  Some kids are looking forward to the routine and seeing their friends again.  Some also might be feeling stress, worry, and potentially fear of the change that will come from a new school year starting.

Back to school for many, is a time of mixed emotions.  Excitement, anxiety, agitation, apprehension.  As parents we often want our kids to feel better and will say things like, “you’ll be fine,” or “don’t worry about it.”  By only telling our kids that things are going to be okay, we are missing an opportunity for a great conversation.  We want our kids to be able to recognize what they are feeling and thinking, be able to talk with us about it, and also learn how to cope with those thoughts and emotions.

Conversations with our children about going back to school can be an opportunity to begin building the skills that will help them learn effective communication and coping skills.  What they are feeling is all normal, and it is helpful for kids to understand having a mixture of emotions is okay and also to be expected.  Emotions are not the problem, it is often what we do with those emotions that can generate challenges.

If your child seems to be nervous about going back to school, ask them, “How are you feeling now that school will be starting again soon?”  Let them say how they feel and then acknowledge that it’s okay to feel what they are feeling.  “It can be difficult to start something new,” or “I used to feel nervous my first day too,” or “lots of people struggle adjusting to getting back into school routines.”  Then you can ask additional open ended questions.  For example, “what do you think would help you to feel more comfortable getting ready to go back to school?”  See if they can problem solve on their own before we jump in to offer suggestions.  Given the opportunity, kids can often develop their own solutions or at least get started with thinking through some options that might help.

Here are some tips that can make getting ready for heading back to school a smoother process:

  • Practice runs.
  • Drive the route to school so your child can get used to the trip and see what the school looks like.
  • Let your child help pick out their school supplies
  • Make sure they go with you on orientation day to drop the supplies off in order to see the classroom and meet their teacher before the first day of school.
  • Read books about going to or back to school.
  • Start adjusting bedtimes and daily routines as much as possible.
  • While it is still summer, if your child goes to bed late and does not start adjusting until the day before school starts, it may take them a while to wake up that morning and likely will take a few weeks to fully adjust to getting back into the school routine.
  • Go over the schedule with your child.
  • For older children, walk their schedule with them so they know where their classrooms are located before the first day of school.
  • Most schools have an orientation day that will give you the opportunity to explore the building.
  • Visit the bus stop with them before the first day of school.
  • It can help decrease worry and stress when we are able to visualize as much as we can about an event before it happens.
  • Get organized
  • Have a location for where their backpack, lunchbox, supplies, etc. will be located.
  • Create a system for making sure any homework or forms will be visible and also make their way back into the backpack for it to be able to get back to school when needed.
  • Have a dedicated spot for homework.
  • Ask open ended questions
  • Breathe deep

Rather than assuming we know what our kids are feeling about returning to school, ask them!

  • How are you feeling about school starting again?
  • What are your thoughts about having homework and taking tests again?
  • What questions would you like to ask your teacher when we meet them?
  • How would you like to organize your backpack?
  • What would you like to bring for school lunches?

Help kids learn how to practice deep breathing:

If we can slow our breathing down it can help us manage stress and worry levels and keep them from escalating to a level that may feel overwhelming.

I like to teach deep breathing to kids by having them imagine blowing bubbles or blowing up a balloon.  If we exhale too fast we won’t get many bubbles and that balloon will shoot across the room!  We want lots of bubbles!  Breathing in slowly through the nose and a slow and steady exhale is what we are looking for.  You can get your kids some bubbles and have them practice!

Here are some deep breathing visuals that can help kids learn and practice deep breathing skills.  They can practice them at home and then picture them in their mind while tracing on their hand or leg so no one will know they are trying to slow their breathing down and manage stress.

Some kids benefit from feeling a connection with you while they’re at school.  Wearing the same bracelet, the same color shirt, having the same temporary tattoo, etc. they can look at those items and think of you.

We can always help, we also want our kids to build skills, independence, and learn how to communicate their thoughts and feelings in a way that enables us to help them when needed and most effectively.  By having conversation with our children, and also demonstrating the tools we’d like them to adopt, we are creating a great foundation for them to grow confidence and self efficacy!



If you feel like you or your child could use extra assistance or is struggling with the adjustment to school, you can call our intake coordinator to set up your free phone consult with one of our therapists! Our team of caring therapists and psychologists would be honored to support you on your mental health journey and to help you create a treatment plan.  You can receive the support you deserve from our Tampa, FL-based practice Contacting Wellness Psychological Services 


Wellness Psychological Services is proud to offer both in-person and online therapy for the residents of Florida.  Our team also offers couples counselingdivorce discernment counselingsupport through a divorce, and mediation for couplesWe also offer mental health support services including anxiety treatmenttrauma therapydepression counselingOCD treatmentstress management, and testing and evaluation services for individuals as wellAdditionally, we are happy to offer eating disorder treatment,  PCIT therapyDBTchild therapytherapy for professionals, and health psychologyFeel free to learn more by visiting our blog page or FAQ today!

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