School is just around the corner for most children. For both children and parents, that usually means a mixture of excitement and anxiety—along with sadness about the end of the lazy days of summer and relief that school will bring some more structure to family life. But for foster children and teens and their caregivers worry may dominate the days before school begins, particularly if the foster placement is a new one. Even if the children will be attending the same school as last year, they will be going from a new home.
Parents and other caregivers can help to smooth the transition back to school for all students, but particularly for those entering a new school. A visit to the school can help to orient new students, but even if buildings are open a few days before instruction begins, it’s a good idea to call ahead to make sure that visitors are welcome. If it’s not possible to visit, tracing the route the student will travel to school–whether walking, taking public transportation, or riding with parents or other families—will help the student begin to get oriented.
It’s also helpful to establish mealtime and other routines before school opens. What time are kids expected to be at the breakfast table? Are they supposed to dress before or after they eat? Will they have breakfast at school? If they take lunch or a snack from home, do they help prepare it? Do they have input into what they take? This kind of information helps to alleviate uncertainty and confusion. Some children benefit greatly from having a checklist to help them remember to brush teeth and hair, what they are supposed to put in a backpack, and whether they are supposed to make their bed before they leave for school.
Photo courtesy of Gioia De Antoniis.
Knowing the afternoon routines can help avoid struggles. For
example, adults may assume that kids know where to put their backpacks or that they are supposed to change out of school clothes. If those weren’t the rules in a previous foster home, it’s likely that they will revert to the patterns they followed there. Having a quick snack available also helps to reduce the
grouchiness that comes from low blood sugar! Sitting with students while they eat also offers an opportunity to hear about the events of the day and review expectations for the rest of the afternoon and evening—homework, dinner, and any other activities that will come before bedtime.
Some children will be so exhausted at the beginning of school that they will fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly. Others will be so anxious or excited that they will have trouble falling asleep and sleep fitfully. We can easily forget that interacting with teachers and peers for several hours during a school day is tiring. It can also be stressful to have to follow a predetermined schedule without the opportunity to rest when you want to or to have to sit quietly at your desk when you want to be talking to your neighbor.
All of this is harder if you are the new kid. All children need a little extra TLC at the beginning of school, but particularly those who are new to the school and the routines of the family.
By Toni Heineman