Tips for easing kids into the back-to-school routine

These tips are from Colorado State University’s Center for Family and Couple Therapy.

School supplies are placed front and center on store shelves weeks before any of us are ready to accept the end of summer. But when the calendar turns to August, it’s time to start thinking about the transition back to school.

back to school signWhether your kids are 5 or 15, minimizing stress by preparing in advance for the busyness and routines of school can help ensure a successful year. Consider the following strategies this month.

  • Watch for back-to-school information online or in the mail: Back-to-School Nights, open houses, orientations, registration days, fall sports parent meetings. Your August and September calendar fills up fast, especially if you have more than one child. Get these dates on the calendar early so you can either avoid conflicts or make arrangements when they arise. Websites and newsletters from the school will also give information about bus schedules, meal plans, school supplies, required forms, etc.
  • Save or copy completed paperwork: As a parent you will write your child’s emergency contact and health information what seems like a thousand times. Keeping copies of paperwork can serve two purposes. First, it’s always best to keep copies of any forms turned into the school in case something is misplaced. Also, photocopies kept in a file or a three-ring binder make finding important information easy when forms need to be filled out again.
  • Be purposeful about buying school supplies: For younger children, the school supply list is long and thorough. Shop early to ensure the best availability. Older kids, however, may not really know what they need until after they attend the class, so it can be better to wait to buy.
  • Schedule check-ups: Has your child had an annual well-child check or athletic physical? Doctors’ offices get very busy this time of year, so call and schedule an appointment soon. Are your child’s vaccinations up to date? If any medication changes are needed, it’s helpful to make that adjustment before school starts. Remember to take any forms required by the school to the appointment for the doctor to sign.
  • Get organized: Begin new routines before the first day of school. No matter our age, it takes time to change our routines. Help your child gradually start working toward going to sleep and waking up at the same time as during the school year. Create some rituals around bedtime to help your child’s mind and body prepare for sleep (i.e. reading, taking a warm bath or shower, and setting out clothes for the next day). Shutting off screens and turning down the lights help cue one’s body for sleep. You can also create wake-up rituals to help the mornings go more smoothly. Think about other routines that need to be incorporated. Is your child expected to do chores or participate in family meals? Is there a designated place for your child to keep a backpack or school supplies? Is there a quiet, clutter-free space for your child to study?
  • Visit school before the first day: The National Association of School Psychologists suggests that seeing their classroom and meeting their teacher can ease anxiety for younger children. If teachers aren’t available before school, they recommend that you help them find pictures of their teachers and principal online so they will recognize them at school. For older kids who might be moving to a new school it can be helpful to find lockers and classrooms in advance to ease some first-day stress.
  • Communicate: Start talking about school and routines now so your child is prepared for the first day. If they are excited, get excited with them. If they are anxious, listen to and acknowledge their concerns. Help them brainstorm ways to deal with these concerns and empower them to problem-solve.

Whether you and your kids are excited about or dreading the start of school, it can be a stressful time. Using strategies to reduce stress can ease the transition and start the school year off right.

By Stephanie Seng, Toni Zimmerman, and Shelley Haddock, faculty in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program in the Colorado State University Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Colorado State University’s Center for Family and Couple Therapy is affiliated with the MFT Program and provides high-quality therapy services to families, couples, individuals, adolescents, and children. The CFCT offers services to all members of the Larimer County community, as well as to students, faculty, and staff on campus. For more information, see