Ocean Partnership for Children offers strategies to prepare children and teens for a new school year.
MANAHAWKIN, NJ – The prospect of heading back to school can elicit mixed emotions among students no matter the age. While some may be eager and excited, others may feel anxious or nervous. Regardless of where your child falls on the spectrum, help them mentally prepare for their first day back.
There are many community resources available to you and your children to help navigate the transition from summer to school year, including Ocean Partnership for Children (OPC). OPC is Ocean County’s Care Management Organization (CMO). Its mission is to enhance the well-being of youth and their families through natural and community supports. Victoria Azzopardi, LCSW, Director of Clinical Operations at Ocean Partnership for Children offers guidance and resources for the whole family as they navigate the back-to-school season.
The transition from lazy summer days to structured school routines can be hard on both children and caregivers. A few weeks before school starts, begin to discuss a transition plan for re-establishing structure and familiarity into the household routine.
School routine at any age is important and the earlier you start, the better off you are. “I would encourage having your child or teen join in on writing out or drawing pictures of the steps in the routine and the allotted time. This routine should include expectations on homework, playtime, dinner times, electronic use and overall nightly prep. At least two to three weeks before school, start implementing the agreed upon structure,” stated Azzopardi.
From school supply preparation to physical space for schoolwork, staying organized is key to back to school transitions. Prepare everything the night before so you can start their day organized.
Most schools have web portals that allow students to check their assigned teacher’s page for items they may need for the upcoming school year. If a caregiver does not have access to a computer in advance of the school year, they could visit their local library. If that is not possible, start off with the basic items needed, such as pencils, pens, folders, notebooks, erasers, binders, sticky notes, sharpies and highlighters.
Establish a place in the home where schoolwork can be completed and maintained. Once school starts, it’s important to keep backpack and work areas clean. “Weekly, do a clean sweep. If papers need to be kept, file them; otherwise, toss them,” Azzopardi recommends. Weekly, caregivers along with their child/teen can check the school’s web portal to ensure everything is up to date and if not, make plans for completion.
Talk With Your Kids
Talk to your kids early about what it will be like heading back to school. Ask open ended questions, such as, “how are you feeling about school starting?”
“The key is supporting our kids when they are stressed or anxious about the upcoming school year. It is important to be fully present and actively listening without minimizing their feelings or trying to fix the situation,” noted Azzopardi. “Allow them the space to process their feelings without judgement.” Sometimes just knowing that someone understands what they’re experiencing is enough to help kids get through the fear, worry or anxiety of school starting.
Watch for Symptoms of Anxiety, and Then Manage
Anxiety is a universal feeling. When anxiety gets too big, kids may experience restlessness, excessive negative thoughts and worries, quickness to anger, bouts of unexplained crying, struggles concentrating, changes in eating and sleeping habits, somatic complaints and overly clingy behavior.
Caregivers know their child/teen best. “If you notice prolonged (couple of days up to two weeks) changes where the child/teen is showing signs that are unusual for them and discussion has not quelled their nerves, caregivers have many resources available at their fingertips for support,” stated Azzopardi. Caregivers can outreach directly to the school, their pediatrician, their insurance company to secure emotional/social support for their child/teen. They can also contact PerformCare at 877-652-7624, where the situation will be triaged and information and referral will be provided.
In-school support is available throughout the state of New Jersey, with many offering school counseling support as well as social supports such as Lunch Bunch. Azzopardi recommends, “caregivers, children and teens should seek out their guidance counselor to see what is available to them in their school system. If the child/teen’s emotional and social needs seem to require more support than what the school services can provide, the guidance counselor will be able to guide referrals.”
Preparing for a New School
Whether children/teens are returning to the same school or starting a new one, the start of a new school year can usually produce some angst, even among the most excited. However, most settle into an everyday routine in no time.
Driving the child/teen to the school, showing them the exterior of the school building ahead of the first day helps set expectation and ease anxiety. For the first couple of days up to a week, caregivers should consider adjusting their own schedule to be home when their child/teen returns from school, helping to make the change easier. Of course, not all caregivers have that option. In that case, Azzopardi recommends caregivers arrange evenings to give their child/teen attention, especially during the first few days back at school. “While you may spend time talking about school, it’s a good idea to play a boardgame, watch a movie or favorite TV show or just get the body moving outside to promote healthy connections.”
About Ocean Partnership for Children Inc.
Founded in 2005, Ocean Partnership for Children (OPC) is Ocean County’s Care Management Organization (CMO). Its mission is to enhance the well-being of youth and their families through natural and community supports. OPC provides care coordination services for Ocean County youth up the age of 21 years who have mental health, substance use, intellectual and developmental challenges. OPC strives to keep children and adolescents at home, in school, and in the community by connecting them to resources that meet their unique needs and help them achieve their goals.
Ocean Partnership for Children is a non-profit organization available at no cost to all youth and families in Ocean County who meet the eligibility criteria of the New Jersey Children’s System of care. To learn more, visit https://www.oceanpartnership.org or https://www.oceanresourcenet.org.