Last week children returned to school after two weeks of winter recess. Two weeks of fun and frolic are over. The excitement of the season, treats, family reunions, unscheduled activities, late bedtimes, and no early morning hustle of getting ready are all in the past. The return to school brings a different routine requiring a disciplined approach.
Some children will adapt quickly to this change but others may have difficulty adjusting to the new routine. It may take them days or even weeks before they become accustomed to the school routine. This may even bring back to their minds the anxiety, and stress which they might have experienced when they first started kindergarten or preschool. They will react to this transition to the school day schedule via their behaviors. These behaviors will be unusual or different than their normal everyday behaviors and will vary depending on the age of the child.
Your 3- to 5-year-old child may cry and refuse to separate from you when you bring him or her to the school. They may cry frequently at school. They may show irritation and anger. They may regress in his behavior, for example start sucking their thumb again.
If you have a 5- to 10-year-old child, they may react to this change by having sleep difficulties. Examples would be difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, refusing to sleep in their own bed, and also having scary dreams and nightmares. They may become clingy to you when you drop them off at school. They may even complain of physical symptoms, like headaches and stomach aches that may have no medical origin.
Parents and teachers need to be sensitive to any unusual changes in the child’s behaviors. As a general rule when there is an upcoming change in routines it is helpful to give reminders a couple of days ahead of the change. For example, you need to start reminding the child of the upcoming school day a couple of days in advance before the vacation ends.
Parents need to be supportive and refrain from asking “why” questions. If the child is crying, please reassure them that you will be there to pick them up at the end of the school day.
At bedtime if the child talks to you about their fears, please do not minimize them. Give them time to open up to you. Listen to what they are saying. Do not start giving suggestions and guidance.
Do activities with your child to help them relax. With patience, support and reassurance your child will adapt to the new routine again.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Salma Bhalla, Ph.D., is a psychologist and author of two parenting books, “Cues & Clues to Children’s Behaviors” and “Stress in Children.” Reach her at www.ChildBehaviorCues.com.