Young Arcadians are heading back to school this month and families will shift into higher gears after the lazy days of summer. New schedules don’t have to be stressful. With a little planning, back-to-school time can be a smooth transition for the whole family. 

Acknowledge your child’s feelings about school. 

Some may not be able or willing to discuss, but you know your child best and likely can decipher their feelings even if they don’t share outright. For young children, storybooks and art can help them articulate their thoughts. Repeat their words to acknowledge their concerns, even if their worries seem irrational to you. 

 Older children may feel more at ease to express themselves in the car, or as you shop or cook together. Take things as they come forth organically. For example, one of my children would volunteer the previous year’s issues as school approached.  

Though the issues seemed moot to me since everything would be new, it was relevant to their thoughts about school starting. Although it’s almost a rite of passage for adults to joke with kids about dreading the return to school, most children look forward to it. Parents should also elicit happy feelings and discuss them as school begins.

Model that education is important to your family. 

Get involved. When children see you engage, they feel a stronger sense of belonging. Education is relational. Bolster relationships by conversing often with teachers so they’ll know your child and family. Choose a preschool where you are welcome to participate.  

Find out what your school office needs or attend parent seminars. There’s no shame in volunteering for things that reflect your interests. If the PTO isn’t your thing, offer up other skills you have, such as guitar playing or gardening. If the thought of making change at the school auction gives you hives, bake for the Cake Walk. Schools need a lot of help and you are valued, no matter what you offer.

Make sleep a priority. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to sound the alarm that American children aren’t getting the sleep they need. And the problem isn’t merely crankiness:  

“Regularly sleeping fewer than the number of recommended hours is associated with attention, behavior, and learning problems…accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and depression.”

In a 24-hour period, preschoolers need 11-14 hours of sleep, elementary students/middle schoolers need 9-12, and teenagers need 8-10. Occasionally I’ve asked preschool parents to count backwards from when their child wakes to find their recommended bedtime. The answer is startlingly early, with an even earlier pre-bedtime routine of bath, reading, lullabies and all the things we do to cue that the day is done.

Skip unnecessary consumerism. 

Pass on taking young children shopping for school clothes. It’s crowded and hot and they aren’t interested in what adults are buying. For older students, consider giving them a budget and the autonomy to select what makes them happy. Today’s teens are speaking up about antiquated dress codes and the systems that created them. The steps they take toward regulating their own bodies are both beautiful and necessary in becoming independent adults.

Dress for success. 

Choose comfortable play clothes for young students with shoes conducive to jumping, running and climbing – no heels or stiff materials. Skip dresses or other garments that inhibit free movement. Equal the literal playing field, so moving freely and athletically isn’t a gendered experience. Choose clothes that aren’t so expensive that kids are afraid to paint or dive into messy science experiments.

Connect the idea of fun with school. 

Introduce yourself to other parents and start the playdates rolling early and often. This will also provide the “village” you’ll treasure in raising the next generation. Go to the school carnivals, art nights, dance shows and marching band competitions. Enjoy your time. 

Our fortunate Arcadia neighborhood has schools serving all the way from toddlers to teens. With a little strategizing, back to school will be a happy transition for the whole family.

— Nola Enge, PhD, is the director at The Hills School at Shepherd of the Hills,

5524 E. Lafayette Blvd., thehillsschool.org.