We're in the final stretch. Another school year come and (almost) gone.
Huge sigh of relief for parents of anxious kids. For many kids, worries shrink as
summer approaches. Days are long and languid and full of home. Nights end with an
exhausted collapse into bed. Tangled limbs. Deep sleep. But when September hits
– Bam! – right back to tearful nights, fretful days, stomach aches.
Make it different this year. Here are 5 easy, fun, free things you can do to make
sure your child gains (rather than loses) ground this summer, increasing the chances
of a smooth reentry to school:
Go to school. Make your child's school a frequent destination.
Walk there to play
on the playground. Bike there for twilight picnics. Take a drive over for an outdoor
scavenger hunt or a game of catch.
Frequenting the school's grounds keeps school
familiar to your child. Playing there broadens the associations in your child's
mind, linking school with fun and silliness and adventure and you.
It is a mistake,
especially for anxious kids, to leave school in mid-June and not return until the
end of August.
So go often. Arrange exchanges there if you can (your child arrives
with you, leaves with a friend's parent). Keep school a familiar place.
- Use your house. Children who have trouble separating from parents at school often
have trouble separating at home, too. Use summer as a time to help your child learn
to fully navigate your house alone, providing practice with mini-separations.
For children unable to go upstairs alone, set up a series of daily challenges. Have
your child go upstairs alone to hunt for an object you have hidden or to accomplish
a wacky task – touch every doorknob, turn around 6 times, roll across your bedroom
floor, come back down.
Do this sort of thing repeatedly – up, down, up, down – gradually
increasing the length of time your child is away from you: go upstairs, sit on your
bed, draw a hippo eating a popsicle, read a chapter from your book, come back down.
For children who keep track of their parents in the house, calling out to reassure
themselves you haven't vanished, institute alone time. Alone time happens with your
child in a room alone. No calling out. No coming to find you.
Start with a tiny
amount of time (2 minutes is plenty for some children) and work your way up to 20
minutes. Help your child brainstorm what to do during alone time, choosing from
the toys/activities readily available – but no electronics.
If your child calls
to you or comes searching for you (and yes, the sudden need to get a drink, go to
the bathroom, ask how to spell "octopus" all constitute searching for you), the
time starts over.
Navigation practice and alone time help children learn to manage
the uncertainty they feel when separated from a parent, ultimately easing the transition
back to school.
- Practice separations.
If your child isn't going to camp or daycare, create opportunities
to practice separations. Work out a play-date exchange with neighborhood parents.
Hire a teenage sitter. Find free library or other programs with a drop-off feature.
Children who have been with their parents all summer long typically have the hardest
time saying goodbye at school. Practice.
- Take on challenges. Help your child define a challenge or two to take on over the
Maybe it will be riding a bike with a friend. Or staying at swim lessons
while you run errands. Or doing a sleep-over for the first time.
Whatever it is,
have your child articulate the goal and work together to define a set of logical
With the swim lesson goal you might stay the first time, go to the car and
come right back the second time, go to the car and stay there for 5 minutes the
third time, go to the car for the entire lesson the fourth time, take a walk (away
from the swim facility) the fifth time, etc.
Like alone practice, summer challenges
help your child develop the skills necessary to manage uncertainty, overcome fear
and rely on other adults, all useful when September rolls around.
- Talk it up. Talk about school all through the summer.
Reminisce about the prior
year. Speculate about the year to come. Spread purchases throughout the summer (oh,
these socks will be great for school!) rather than waiting and doing it in one fell
Many children (and parents) put school out of their minds for the summer,
bringing it up with a groan a week or two before the new school year. Keeping school
an active (and positive) topic – as well as a destination – eases the transition
Happy entry into summer!