Ask an expert - SARAH STUKAS, PSYCHOTHERAPIST
Last updated 8/12/2023 at Noon | View PDF
How can parents help kids get ready for school?
The items on a child's classroom supply list often aren't the only things they're carrying back to school. Worries and uncertainties, said psychotherapist Sarah Stukas, can add to a student's back-to-school load, whether they're a kindergartner or a student headed to college.
Stukas said a little preparation and a few simple tools and tricks can ease the mental load that can come with a new school year.
Stukas is a licensed clinical professional counselor and founder of Life Insight in Hinsdale.
Housed inside a historic home on Vine Street, Life Insight employs a team of counselors with a wide range of specialties to treat clients from 3 years through adulthood.
First on Stukas' list of back-to-school tips is the creation of a routine. Students of any age can find it difficult to quickly transition from a lax schedule to the highly regulated one of a school day. Stukas said an established routine for evening and morning will ease stress within the home and help students to adjust.
The back-to-school routine should include time to plan for the next day and a clear schedule for morning. Depending on the needs of the child and family, the nighttime routine can include packing supplies for the next day, choosing the next day's clothing or prepping breakfast.
"Don't underestimate the power of basics," Stukas said, referring to sleep, food and rest.
She suggests slowly adjusting to the school schedule in the weeks before classes begin.
"Tweak bedtime in 15-minute increments," she said, noting that kids need at least 10 hours of sleep for their brains and bodies to function and grow properly.
Separate from the need for sleep is the need for rest, Stukas said. Parents should allow and encourage time for their student to relax, whether it's by watching television, playing a game they like, reading or enjoying a hobby.
"It's really important to our overall well-being," she said.
Communication is another important tool in helping students adjust to a new school year.
"Parents do a good job of making time to talk," Stukas said.
But many could improve on their ability to just listen to their kids. It's natural for parents to want to solve a child's problems and quickly ease their concerns, but it's also important for parents to know whether a child is asking for help or simply needs to voice their anxieties.
"Sometimes the child just wants to be heard," Stukas said.
Some apprehension and uncertainty is to be expected with the anticipation of any new experience. When those worries and anxiety linger, a student may need help, Stukas said.
Persistent worry that causes personality changes, sleep problems or unusual irritability can all be signs that a child could benefit from professional help, Stukas said.
A return to school can mean tough adjustments for parents, too, especially those whose children are starting college. Stukas encourages parents to reconnect with a friend, take up a hobby or plan something fun to distract from the worry in those first days and weeks.
- by Sandy Illian Bosch