After a summer of sleeping in and doing things on their own time, going back to school can be a rude awakening for your teen. Whether they’re an anxious freshman or a confident senior, heading back to school is a time of transition – from new teachers and classes to a new routine and social scene. There’s also the additional uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it will affect another school year.
“To help your teen start a new year off on the right foot, have a conversation about what the school day will look like, starting with how they will get there, whether they’ll pack or buy lunch, and how they will get home,” said Geoffrey Putt, PsyD, a pediatric psychologist at Akron Children’s. “A predictable routine provides the structure and comfort all kids need, including teens.”
School mornings are often hectic, so plan with your teen how much time they will need to catch the bus or another ride, and adjust the routine accordingly. Setting reminders or alarms on their phone can also help to ensure they get to school on time.
Dr. Putt also recommends these 8 tips:
- Rise and shine. Your teen should start going to bed a little earlier for a few nights leading up to the first day of school. It’s just as important to get up earlier too, especially if your teen has been sleeping in all summer. Teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night, so establish a consistent bedtime to ensure they get the sleep they need.
- Don’t forget breakfast. It’s been said time and again that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Plan ahead by stocking up on quick and healthy breakfast items that contain a mix of complex carbohydrates and protein to keep your teen satisfied and able to focus until lunchtime. Pair whole-grain cereal or toast with milk, Greek yogurt, eggs, cheese or nut butters.
- Acknowledge back-to-school anxieties. You may assume your teen is nervous about a new class schedule, but they’re really worried about having enough time to get to their locker between classes or if any friends will have the same lunch period. Talk to your teen about their concerns and help them strategize how to handle them. Show your teen you understand by sharing your own experiences, but don’t minimize their worries.
- Recognize COVID-related anxieties. After a year of online or hybrid learning, your teen may be worried about returning to school in person. Now is a good time to consider the COVID vaccine for your children who are eligible. Discuss plans for face masks and make sure your teen’s school supplies include travel-size hand sanitizer. Remind your teen that although being in the classroom may look a little different for a while, there are just a few simple steps to stay safe.
- Celebrate past successes. Your teen may have forgotten that 2 years ago they were worried about not knowing anyone in their homeroom, but that’s where they met their best friend. When listening to your teen’s worries, acknowledge their concerns, while reminding them how they’ve successfully faced other challenges in the past.
- Find a friendly face. Before school starts, help your teen determine if there is anyone they already know, such as a neighbor, who could sit with them on the bus. See if they have any classes together. A familiar face, especially on the first day, can be very helpful.
- Avoid homework hassles. Establish an area for homework that’s free of clutter and away from the TV and other distractions. Make sure the space is equipped with the tools your teen will need, such as a computer, calculator and school supplies. If there’s a window of time before siblings get home from school, encourage your teen to use this quiet time for homework. If they need a break, keep it short. This can be a time to get a drink or snack, or clean out their backpack. Restrict the use of TV or video games during break time. Otherwise, it will be hard to get back to work.
- Get organized. Help your teen get and stay organized. If they’re likely to forget essential items for the day, have them pack their backpack the night before. Laying out their clothes or packing lunch at night can also save time in the morning. Use a wall calendar to keep track of practices, games or other after-school activities. There are many organizational systems and techniques that can help, so figure out with your teen what works best for them.
Knowing how to stay organized and manage time are skills known as executive functions.
While it’s normal for all kids and teens to struggle with executive functions from time to time, if your teen always seems to be running late, regularly forgets to turn in assignments and has such poor organizational skills that it’s affecting grades and home life, they could be a candidate for Akron Children’s Executive Functioning Skills Building Program.
“First, children are assessed to see where they are struggling,” said Dr. Putt. “Based on those results, we can match the child with the appropriate program module, which covers such areas as impulse control, starting tasks independently, staying focused, memory and adapting to changes in routine.”
For more information about the Executive Functioning Skills Building Program, call 330-543-5081.