The start of a new school year is a hectic time for most families. New teachers, new courses, new classrooms, maybe even a new school or community. It can be a lot to handle. For children who have experienced trauma, all of that change is heightened, creating additional stress as school begins. Shodair Children’s Hospital has decades of experience as Montana’s leading resource for children’s mental health and understands the importance of creating a smooth transition from summer to school.

“Summers are short in Montana, and it is easy for the school year to sneak up on you,” said Jenna Eisenhart, lead therapist of Shodair’s school-based services program and therapeutic group home. “But, building back a routine and forming new habits takes some time, and it helps everyone to begin the process a few weeks before classes start.”

Eisenhart has these tips for parents and guardians as they gear up for the school year:

Meeting a teacher ahead of time cuts down on a lot of school anxiety. Go to any open house or back-to-school event at your school. If they don’t have one, ask to set up a brief meeting with your child’s teacher.

Practice makes perfect and that applies to waking up, too! Start setting the alarm and running through the school day morning routine a couple of weeks early so day one starts a bit more smoothly.

Set up a special time and place for schoolwork. What you do isn’t the important part – read a book or use an educational app together – what is important is to establish the pattern.

Plan for the school year together. Talk about it with your child. Go shopping for school supplies together. Mark the day on the calendar they use, drive or walk by the school. This is called frontloading (a fancy word for giving children information ahead of time), and it is a great strategy for preparing children for change.

Establish an open communication system with a teacher or school counselor; they can be a great resource if your child needs some extra help.

Be curious and connected. Ask your child how they are doing, what they think about school, if they have any questions or concerns, and then find the answers and keep the discussion alive before, during, and after the first day of classes.

Mental health problems can emerge or grow during transition times. Eisenhart encourages parents to pay attention to their child’s emotional state and seek help early if you think there might be a problem. A therapist, doctor, teacher, or school counselor can provide guidance and assistance to make sure your child is getting the care and attention they need. To learn more about Shodair Children’s Hospital and its services, visit the website at Shodair.org.

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