Health & Wellness

Smooth Transitions

While exciting, starting school for the first time or moving up to high school can be stressful for a student. Sheppard Pratt experts offer their advice on making these transitions as seamless as possible.

Elementary School

Beginning elementary school can be one of the biggest changes a child goes through. It’s important to let your child know you support them during this time, and there are a few tips and tricks that can help ease the transition for the whole family. To learn more, we talked to Abby Potter, director of program development and training at Sheppard Pratt Schools. 

Practice new routines

Provide consistency, predictability, and routine.  This will create the structure your children need to thrive in school. Establish new bedtime routines and practice getting ready for school prior to the school year starting. Modeling healthy routines is one of the best forms of teaching, so sticking to your own schedule sends a powerful message too!

Listen for what they don’t say

Children starting elementary school are often trying to figure out if they can measure up to their parents’ expectations... Am I going to be good at school? Will my parents be proud of me? Will I make friends? This can make them feel anxious and nervous without the ability to express it.

“Your children may be wordless at times, but they are rarely thoughtless. These thoughts may surface through actions, so pay attention to behavioral changes. Help your child label their feelings and be supportive,” Potter says. “If they have an unexpected meltdown, try to stay calm and wait them out. Help them figure out what feelings are making them act this way.”

Often when children are experiencing stressful incidents, they need you to validate their thoughts and feelings. Think to yourself, my child is not giving me a hard time, they are having a hard time.  

It can be tough to parent when our own stress levels are high, so taking care of yourself is critical too. Take time to decompress after bedtime or whenever you are able. Take a walk, get some exercise, talk to a therapist. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

The trauma of a global pandemic can have a profound effect on a child’s ability to socialize. Many children missed out on experiences that provide the foundation for social, emotional, and behavioral skills that prepare them for school, like play dates, pre-school, trips to the playground, or family/religious events. 

If you notice your child does not seem to be thriving at school or making friends, talk to their teacher and school counselors. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the professionals. Early intervention is key to getting your child the support they may need. 

We can get through this transition together! It takes a village to raise healthy children. Reach out to friends, family, and professionals. You, as a parent, are not alone. 

High School

Transitioning into high school brings more than just increased academic demands. It’s a time of exciting opportunities, as well as challenges, changes, and social pressures. We talked to Amanda Link, regional behavioral services manager for Sheppard Pratt Schools, and Jason Goldman, a transition coordinator at Sheppard Pratt School in Glyndon, about how to help rising high schoolers adapt and thrive. 

To navigate limbo: communicate

“Adolescence is such a tumultuous time. New high school students are straddling this line between adulthood and childhood; they need support, but they want to make their own decisions,” Link says. Open communication is key. Your kids might join new peer groups; keep an eye on who they hang out with, Link adds. Get to know their parents. 

“Teens aren’t yet able to understand long-term consequences because their frontal lobes aren’t fully developed,” Link says. “You walk this fine line between setting boundaries and veering too far into punishment—which leads kids to be even sneakier. Encourage them to be honest with you, and if they make a mistake, point out the repercussions without shaming them.” 

And remember, teens aren’t great at regulating their emotions, Goldman says. “Give them space for that. Don’t take things too personally.” 

Addressing anxiety 

“A lot of it is fear of the unknown,” Goldman says. What are new classes and teachers going to be like? These changes can feel overwhelming. Try countering the anxiety with excitement. Talk to your kids about what to look forward to in high school—new career focused electives, new sports, and social activities. Take a tour of the high school to help familiarize ahead of time. 

Enjoy each other

“Your relationship is going to vary. Sometimes you’re friends, sometimes they want nothing to do with you. It’s limbo for parents too,” Goldman says. “Don’t stress about it. Take advantage of the moments when they happen. Find ways to engage with their interests.” 

Be open to their interests changing during this time too.  Don’t get hung up on them sticking with something, Goldman advises. Let them try things out. “You start seeing flashes of these amazing, hilarious people they are becoming,” Link says. “Give more weight to the good moments than the bad ones. This is your highlight reel—it’s happening now.”

Accountability and digital citizenship

Accountability fosters independence. Chores turn into job skills. Simply doing yardwork for neighbors can help teenagers learn responsibility. “You don’t have to throw them in the deep end though. Walk through the step-by-step process to apply for a job or obtain a learner’s permit. And encourage them to follow through,” Link says. “You are teaching independence. Instead of taking away their cell phone, maybe you make them pay for it. That’s what adult life is like—no one takes your stuff away, but your actions have consequences.”

Another aspect of accountability these days is teaching good digital citizenship—how to navigate the internet and social media safely and ethically. “Legislation and regulation have not caught up to the technological capacities kids have. Parents have a responsibility to talk to kids about this stuff,” Link says. “Help them understand the risks and consequences, like, what’s online lives forever, and sharing a photo of someone else isn’t always okay. Consent has to be taught.”

“When we were younger, school ended—we had a break from school and peer pressure after the bell rang,” Goldman says. “But now phones constantly connect our kids to their peers and stressors. Teens don’t get time off anymore.” He suggests encouraging (and modeling!) tech breaks. Cultivate activities away from technology like taking a hike, reading a book, or leaving phones in the car or at home when you go out for a meal.

Take care of yourself

“It’s impossible to do the right thing 100% of the time. Treat yourself with compassion,” Goldman says. Just because you are giving support, doesn’t mean you don’t need it. Connect with other parents in your life. Spend time with friends and engaging in hobbies you enjoy. “It is common to struggle at times,” Link says. “Make sure you have support, so that you can take care of your kid.

It’s okay if you panic and cry when your kid drives to school for the first time.” Think about how you would treat a friend going through an emotional transition. Be gentle with yourself, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. “There is no one right way to do this. Pick your battles, model good behavior, and forgive yourself for your mistakes—just like you would forgive your kids,” Link says.

Learn More

If your child needs a little extra help making one of these transitions, our Outpatient Mental Health Centers are here to help.