Heading back to school is often filled with anxiety for both parents and kids. New teachers, new friends and new academic challenges are only the beginning.

“Parents can help make the back-to-school transition smoother by helping their child set goals, keeping an eye out for signs of stress and being involved in their child’s school,” says Ellen Braaten, PhD, co-director of The MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. Here, Braaten shares tips to prepare children for their return to school.

Get to Know the Teacher

No one is more important to your child’s success in school than a teacher. If your child is in elementary school, make a point to introduce yourself early in
the year. If your child is in middle or high school – where there he will have multiple teachers – attend
a back-to-school night.

If your child has a learning disability or special need, don’t hesitate to contact the teacher and voice your concerns. Keep it short, make your concerns clear and ask for feedback. If your child is on an Individualized Education Program or Section 504 Plan, be sure the plan is being implemented appropriately.

Encourage Social Relationships

If your child is young, arrange play dates with new or old friends. Plan activities with classmates on the weekends to help your child form bonds. If you are not sure who would be appropriate for a play date, ask your child’s teacher for a suggestion based on your child’s temperament. Social relationships don’t just apply to your child; it’s also a good idea for you to form relationships with other parents to get to know your child’s peers.

Set Goals

For younger kids, it can be something as simple as “I want to learn to read this year.” For older kids, it could include helping your child choose appropriate after-school and extracurricular activities.

Be Mindful of Extracurricular Activities

The beginning of the school year is a good time to talk about how your child would like to spend his or her free time. It’s a good time to try something new – a hobby or sport – and to discuss how much is “too much.” Talk about what worked last year and what didn’t, and develop a schedule that is realistic and fun.

Manage Stress

Not every child copes well with the transition to a new school year. While it is normal to feel anxious, it’s not normal if the anxiety continues beyond the first few weeks. Acknowledge that this is a stressful time. Adjusting to new situations and learning to cope is an ever-changing part of life. Coping with the changes of a new school year is a great opportunity for your child to learn skills needed for later in life. But if your child is having trouble sleeping, has a change in eating habits, seems sad much of the time, is constantly anxious and has lost pleasure in things once enjoyable, seek help. Start by talking to your child’s teacher, school psychologist or guidance counselor.

Get Involved

If possible, volunteer at your child’s school. This can be hard for working parents, but you could volunteer to support your child’s teacher after work hours – for example, helping to plan a one-time event like the class Halloween party. Children whose parents are more involved tend to be more successful.

Focus on the Positive

If your child has a tendency to dwell on the negative aspects of a new school-year transition, help to point out the positives. Discuss the benefits of the school, the teacher or the classroom. Keep your emotions in check. It’s normal for you to feel anxious too, but you don’t want those feelings to rub off on your child. Stay calm, and be confident.

Stick to a Routine

Kids do better when they know what to expect. If you have a routine
that worked last year, continue it. If something needs to change, such as after-school care or a carpool, give your child as much advance warning as possible. It also helps to establish a homework routine. Figure out a time and place to do homework, such as before dinner in the dining room, and stick to it.