We asked local experts to weigh in on their top tips for helping kids adjust back to the classroom.
Trudy Ruminer: The best time to get your child prepared for the new school year is the first day of summer. In fact, you can cultivate your child's natural curiosity and interests into a love for learning that lasts a lifetime if you play your cards right. If possible, keep them connected with friends from school. Seeing a familiar face or two when they do head back that first day will most likely reduce some of the jitters some children may experience. Take full advantage of any back-to-school activities your child's school may offer. Since we are generally all creatures of habit, the more familiar your child can become with their school environment, the more comfortable they will be when the big day arrives. Last, but far from least, muster up as much excitement and enthusiasm for your child’s educational career as humanly possible. Most children take their cues from their parents and will benefit greatly from adopting a "school is for the cool kids" attitude!
Trudy Ruminer is a licensed clinical social worker and the clinical director and owner of True North Therapeutic Solutions, an outpatient mental health agency in Oklahoma City. Trudy is mother to four adult children and the proud grandmother to one. She draws her knowledge not only from her own personal parenting experiences, but also from her years of experience working closely with families.
Dr. Anne K. Jacobs: Starting the countdown to summer's end is a bittersweet endeavor. Take time to finish your family's summer bucket list to help your children return to school without feeling some form of buyer's remorse for how they spent their summer. Help them to plan out some focused family time, a stay-in-pajamas-day or perhaps one last adventure. Be mindful in these moments to soak in the ways these activities can refresh and rejuvenate each of us. Second, dial back screen use. Many families have rules around technology time during the school year, but most tend to get lax over the summer. Setting aside time to detox can help young people be more present and prepare for focusing in the school environment. Consider doing this as a family. Parents need time to disconnect from their screens as well. In the last couple of weeks of summer, start instituting a bedtime and wake-time closer to what they will have during school. As little as a 30- to 40-minute deviation can throw off the sleep cycle of children.
Anne K. Jacobs earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology from the University of Kansas and enjoys serving children, adolescents and their families. In addition to her private practice in Edmond, she holds an adjunct faculty position at Southern Nazarene University. Her family includes: husband, Noel who is also a child psychologist; twin daughters, Keegan and Sarah; one dog, two cats, and five tarantulas.
Madison Clark: Children thrive when things are predictable and the beginning of the school year is oftentimes anything but predictable. Underneath the excitement of new school supplies and back-to-school clothes, children can start to display symptoms of anxiety when it gets closer to the first day of school. Anxiety in children can display itself in many forms. If you notice your child is acting out of the ordinary, talk to him or her about it. Ask if they are worried about anything and maintain an open dialogue about any fears they report. For children who struggle academically, take some time to review some of the work they did the previous school year to reassure them and build their confidence walking into that first day. For young children who are experiencing their first day ever, talk to them about what school will be like and read books about school. One of my favorite children’s books about worry and starting school is “Wemberly Worried” by Kevin Henkes. Try to remember that the beginning of school is exciting but also a big adjustment for children and parents, so have some grace on them and yourself during the first few weeks.
Madison Clark is a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist in private practice in Norman. She specializes in working with families with young children, ages 0-6. She has extensive training in play therapy and enjoys watching parents connect with their children through play.
Jim Priest: My wife came up with the tradition of “popcorn night” the evening before the first day of school. This was a standing date to talk with our children individually and hear their thoughts and expectations for the new school year. We talked through any apprehensions or misgivings they had. We just sat around the kitchen table, kept it lighthearted and ate popcorn together. Our kids enjoyed this even into high school.
Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 109-year-old non-profit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma’s most vulnerable people. Jim and his wife, Diane, have been married for 38 years and have two adult children, Amanda and Spencer and are owned by a dog named Jeter.
Tamara Walker: To help your kids return to school with ease, it’s best to start preparing them a few weeks before school starts. Summer schedules are often more lax than school year schedules, so it helps to start transitioning kids back to their school routines about two to three weeks before the new school year begins. Talk about the new school year with your kids and listen to their concerns. Let them have as much say as possible in choosing school supplies, backpacks, lunchboxes, clothing, etc. Make sure to discuss school drop-off and pick-up plans, whether they will be driven by a parent, carpooling, walking to school or riding the bus. If your kids participate in after-school activities or attend an after-school day care, go over those plans as well. Discuss expectations for when and where your kids will work on their homework assignments and study. A new school year can bring many changes for your kids and the whole family. Focus on the positive and encourage your kids to think of the new school year as a new adventure!
Tamara Walker, R.N. shares her family expertise at MomRN.com and Ask MomRN Show, a weekly online talk show featuring family/parenting, health and family entertainment topics with well-known experts, authors, and celebrity guests. Tamara is a mom of two young adults. She lives with her husband in Edmond.
Greg Gunn: Start talking to your children about the upcoming school year and ease back into routines such as appropriate morning and bedtimes. Help your child own the changes and have them make choices from already parent-approved options about lunches, school supplies and school clothes. The more they feel involved, the more confidence they will have in the changes.
Greg Gunn, founder of Family-iD, is a life coach, pastor, author and speaker from Oklahoma City. Married for 30 years, Greg is a father of seven kids, a father-in-law and a grandfather of two. For 17 years, Greg has led Family Vision Ministries, a ministry that helps families put their purpose on paper and pass it on to future generations.
Dr. Lisa L. Marotta: Heading back to school for kids is like New Year’s Eve to adults, a blank calendar filled with possibilities and promise. Set a goal this year to make the transition back into the classroom an opportunity to connect, reassure and celebrate with your student as they make the tricky transition from flip flops to sensible shoes. With some advance planning, you can be a valuable resource for your elementary, middle and high school students. Bond over supply shopping or show your support by offering to help sort through their closet and add a few new things to express their growing individuality. Be patient and available on back-to-school events as they attempt to navigate the social and logistical challenges of school. High school students will increasingly want to show off their independence by doing more of the back-to-school stuff on their own. You can connect by staying up past your bedtime to listen to their angst and assist them in problem solving a schedule conflict. All ages benefit from a family calendar to visualize the shift in routine and to look forward to breaks and holidays. Back-to-school inevitably involves some cash but it is your time investment that makes the biggest impact on your student.
Dr. Lisa L. Marotta is celebrating 22 years of private practice. She is a clinical psychologist in Edmond with a special heart for women, children and families. Dr. Marotta enjoys writing, public speaking and blogging. She and her husband Sal have two young adult daughters.
Lori Wathen: Helping children with special needs transition back to the classroom can be challenging for both parents and students, but there are ways to make that transition go a little easier. If at all possible, allow your child to visit their new classroom or school before school starts to help reduce some of the anxiety and fears that are common the first day of school. Walk around the hallways, visit the classroom and lunchroom and take a stroll to the library and the playground. While you are there, take photos and put together a short story your child can read nightly leading up to the first day of school. Another way to support your child is to support their new teachers. A simple, one-page profile can help a teacher get acquainted with your student quickly and can help reduce behavior issues. Include important details such as likes and dislikes, what a best or worst day looks like, favorite things, how they can be helped or supported and a list their strengths and talents. Lastly, as simple as it sounds, encourage your child in a positive manner. They learn so much from your example.
Lori Wathen is the Region 3 and Oklahoma County Coordinator for Sooner SUCCESS at OUHSC. Sooner SUCCESS provides resources and information to families raising a child with special needs. Lori and her husband, Brian, live in Norman with their 13-year-old son, Reis, who has Down syndrome. Lori is a LEND (Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopment Disabilities) Fellow and serves as a member of the IDEA-B Advisory Panel, Special Education Resolution Center Advisory Board, ABLE-Tech Advisory Council and Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma Board Member.