Falling back into the routine

Christina Burmeister
Clinical Counselor
Mediclinic City Hospital

Coming back to a routine after a long summer break is difficult for everyone. However, children need extra help in this situation. It is best to allow ample time to prepare for and adjust to these changes.

Changing from summer break timings to an early school schedule is akin to jet lag. Similarly, it makes sense to allow for an adjustment phase. A good idea is to start getting used to school timings and adjusting sleep schedules about a week before school starts. If possible, it is a good idea to also adjust lunches and breaks to the school schedule a few days before school starts, in order to avoid energy dips. For younger children it can be fun to act out a school day. Children are helped by feeling in control, so it can also be helpful to display a visual school day schedule and to go over it in intervals, thereby helping children feel more confident about what their day will look like.

Some children may be worried about going back to school and the restrictions it brings. It is a good idea to remind them about the elements they enjoy about being in school. Organising a reunion or party before school begins can be helpful in getting back in touch with friends.

For children starting in a new school, it can be a good idea to visit the school in advance, in order to familiarise them with important areas of the school such as cafeterias and restrooms, so they feel less lost. Also, if possible meet with new teachers to avoid disorientation at the beginning of the school year. Meeting with other children from the school before school starts can take away some of the unease some children may feel.

Once school has started, it is helpful to stick to rigid timings and schedules at home. Setting clear boundaries and rules and sticking to them initially will also make the transition easier. Once children have become accustomed to the school schedule, it is ok to break the rules from time to time.

Anxiety in children presents differently than in adults. Children often lack the words or the insight to express what they are feeling. It is important to take the symptoms of childhood anxiety seriously. These may be symptoms such as headaches or bellyaches, trouble sleeping or suffering from nightmares, crying excessively and being overly sensitive or clingy, or developing phobias. If a child who is usually happy, isn’t, or a child that has always liked going to school starts trying to avoid it, there can be a need to look more closely at what is going on. Have an open, non-judgmental conversation about what is bothering them. Take what they say seriously and validate their feelings. Explore with them the things they can do on their own or with your help in order to make the situation better. Let them know that change is always difficult, so they know they are not alone, but work with them to find a solution for their specific problem.

The best thing parents can do to help in this situation, is to model happiness about going back to a routine themselves. Parents may struggle with coming back from a break and may suffer similarly to their children. However if parents are happy about going back to work and focus on the positive, there is a greater likelihood that their children will be happy about going back to school, too.

There is always something to look forward to!