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We have all felt it – the dread of having to prepare to go back to school or work after a long break. It can be hard even for adults after a weekend – just check how many complaints there are about Mondays on Facebook! Young children often have less of an ability to adjust to new situations than adults as they have less coping skills and vocabulary, so they need some help in figuring out how to deal with their anxieties in a healthy way.
Like adults, one issue involves children getting out of the routine of going to school, and enjoying their time at home. Although your children will remember their school and the people there, being out of the routine created distance in their connection to school and friends. One of the most important ways you can help your children ease back into the routine is to make sure that your night and morning routines are the same. During your vacations, as much as possible, keep your child’s bedtime and wake up time the same. If this isn’t possible, be sure to start to help your child get back to these times a few days before going back to school. Toddlers and preschoolers who are tired have a much harder time getting back into the routine.
You can also start talking about what is planned at school for the week they return. Help them understand the time left until school by looking at the calendar together. Three to four night before going back, start to talk about how many more days until school. Some children may want to mark off the days on the calendar. The day before, have your child help you get ready for school. Having your child help pick out their clothes for the next day, get their lunch together and pack up whatever nap materials they need at preschool will engage them in the process. Getting young children, who often live very much in the moment, to reconnect with the routine of school, can go a long way toward reducing their worry about going back and help them to start looking forward to it.
Reenacting the drive to school may help it feel more normal. Although you’re probably busy during school vacations, if your school is not too far from your house, it may help to keep the driving routine. It doesn’t necessarily have to be at the same time as usual, although that can help. The important part is to keep the place in your child’s mind, along with the trip to it. If the school has an outdoor playground that remains open, that is ideal, but even if it doesn’t, you can always plan a short walk around the block. Be sure to narrate the walk with questions and comments about fun activities about the school. Focus on what your child will be able to do when they go back to school. “Oh look, you can see your classroom window from here. What art project do you want to work on when we go back to school? Do you think they will have your favorite snack next week?” These keeps the routine fresh in your child’s mind and keeps him or her looking forward to the time that school is back in session. A play date with a school friend will also help!
Separation anxiety can also be a hard thing for young children who became used to spending all their time with their parents. Be understanding and try not to get frustrated (at least not visibly) when your child seems to regress to having some separation anxiety. In addition to rehearsing and discussing going back to school, having some kind of comfort object that reminds your child of you might help him or her. He or she can take the object (a photo keychain works well as it is small and won’t get easily hurt) out and remember that you are going to pick him or her up and do something fun when school is over. You can tell your child that every time he or she looks at the photo, you are sending them a big hug and a kiss. Most importantly, when you drop your child off at school that first morning, be loving and confident. Do your morning routine as usual, and be sure to tell your child you love them and you will be back. By the time you return, your child will have a great day at school!