When your child returns to school, they may have a variety of emotions. They may be excited to see their friends and teachers, but they may also be worried about what will happen in the classroom or how they will fit in with their new classmates. If you have a highly sensitive child, transitioning back into a school routine can be especially difficult because they are already experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety.
It’s important to remember that it’s okay to feel anxious. The key is to learn ways to cope with these feelings, so they don’t hinder your child’s success at school.
Here are 5 tips for helping your child transition from summer to school:
- Give them time to adjust gradually. “Highly sensitive children need more time than others for transitions,” says Dr. Aron. “A gradual introduction of new settings will help them adjust better.”
- A few days before school starts, drive by the building so your child can see where he will be.
- Let your child walk through the building with you if you have permission from the school.
- Meet the teacher and principal together, says Dr. Aron. “This way your child knows that you are on her side.”
- If it is possible to visit the classroom before school starts, take advantage of that opportunity.
- It is important that you give your highly sensitive child time to make the transition back to school and let them know you’re with them every step of the way.
- Help them prepare for the change in advance. Let your child know that it’s going to be different and that they may feel strange at first, but that they will get used to it and be okay.
- Give your child a chance to “warm up” to the school year by letting them readjust at their own pace.
- Don’t ask too much of your child and don’t expect that they are going to go back to doing and feeling the way they did before summer started the minute, they get back home.
- Talk to them about their worries and fears, and let them feel everything they need to feel, without rushing to solve or analyze.
- Encourage them to make a list of what they need to do each day before they go to school (homework, morning routine, etc.).
- Direct their attention away from negative thoughts or feelings.
- When your child is upset, ask them what they’re feeling. Instead of focusing on why they’re upset, talk about their feelings. Then have them practice talking to you about their feelings in a way that’s clear and specific.
- Help them develop coping skills: Many kids need help knowing how to manage their emotions during times of transition so give them tools such as breathing exercises, positive affirmations (like “I am strong enough”), or even just talking through.
- As much as possible, try not to react with alarm when your child is distressed or upset and don’t ignore it, either. Instead, take it as an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your child and provide a calm presence for him or her.
- Notice what kind of messages you are delivering about going back to school. Are you saying things like “Luckily it’s almost the weekend, so you have something to get you through the week?” or “I know this first week of school is really hard, but it gets easier soon”? These kinds of messages tell your child that school is challenging. Instead, notice what kind of message you want your child to hear and that may be what you need to.
- Help them get organized with a schedule or planner ahead of time. “Highly sensitive children can be overwhelmed with too much information,” says Dr. Aron. “They may need advance notice about what is happening next so they can prepare themselves mentally.”
- Use visuals, like a calendar with photos or illustrations, so your kids know what to expect each day.
- Role-play conversations and routines your child will do at school before the first day. For example, practice how they will say good-bye to you, how they will answer the teacher’s questions and how they will ask for their own needs.
- Pack a comfort item in their backpack so they have something familiar they can turn to when they need it during the transition away.
- Help them create a plan for how they will start each day.
- Give them time to prepare in the morning so they don’t feel rushed or stressed out when it’s time to leave the house.
- Help them get a good night’s sleep. This is important for all kids, but it’s especially important for highly sensitive children. They need extra sleep because they process everything more deeply than other kids and they notice everything around them more than other kids.
- Create a soothing bedtime routine: A routine helps your child feel safe and calm as they prepare for sleep. It also helps them associate their bedroom with sleeping, which will make it easier to fall asleep when they get there. Try reading a story together, then taking turns brushing teeth and washing hands before saying goodnight.
- Create a calm environment for sleeping. Keep the room dark and quiet, with no electronics allowed in there unless necessary (like maybe an alarm clock). And if possible, try to keep the temperature comfortable—not too hot or cold—for your child to fall asleep comfortably.
- Set limits on screen time: Some research shows that screen time can make it harder for kids to fall asleep at night—and messes with their circadian rhythm (the internal body clock that regulates when we fall asleep). So, try setting limits on screen time before bedtime each night, like limiting phone use after 7 p.m., or turning off devices by 9 p.m., so kids don’t have access to screens right before going to bed.
I hope this helped you feel better equipped to handle the transition from summer to a new school year. HSPs tend to have intense reactions, but if you can manage them and plan for them, your child won’t find the start of the school year so difficult after all.
As always, talk to your child’s teacher if you have questions or concerns. If your child is still struggling in classes at the end of the first week or month of school, talk to a school counselor or your child’s teachers about it.