Transitioning to Routine and Order in a New School Year


On the August 7th of The Defender Podcast, Lynn Beckett joined Herbie Newell to discuss transitioning children from summer to a new school year. Lynn is a vital part of Lifeline’s Counseling and Education team and helps families navigate post adoption challenges and issues that arise.

Summer tends to have its own challenges, with less structure and less predictability. Children from trauma backgrounds tend to thrive better in structured, predictable environments, which tend to favor the school year better. However, transitions of any kind can be difficult for children from trauma backgrounds. Newness and change, especially in the first weeks, is difficult for children from trauma backgrounds.

To help ease this transition, Lynn recommends using the following helps to get back into a scheduled routine, beginning one to two weeks prior to school starting:

  1. Adjust bed and wake times. Begin to move to the times that your child will use when school starts.
  2. Ensure adequate rest. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that children between ages 5-12 need to receive 10-11 hours of sleep each night, and teenagers 13-18 need to receive 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep every night. Make sure your child is receiving proper rest to help set him/her up for success.
  3. Practice the morning routine. Make sure your child knows what expectations you have for them. For younger children, a pictorial schedule will help them remember what happens every day and how they can do their part. You can use a written chart for older children. Post these charts in a prominent place. Prepare clothing, backpacks, lunches, and other items the night before so that children (and parents) are not rushed.
  4. Prepare for a healthy breakfast. Enlist your child’s help in making a list of items they like for breakfast. Ensure there is a good protein included to start the day, and be flexible if needed. For example, if your child will only eat hotdogs, a hotdog for breakfast is better than most of the surgery cereals available. Trauma alters brain and body chemistry, and these children benefit greatly from protein, which fills their tummies for longer periods of time and assists in keeping blood sugar levels more stable.
  5. Prepare for healthy snacks. Make sure snacks are healthy and contain some protein. However, work with your child to make sure they have snacks they will actually eat. Buy ahead or prepare ahead, so you can grab on the go.
  6. Anticipate the unexpected. Consider role playing unexpected situations such as discovering laundry is not clean (choosing another shirt) or that the first choice for breakfast is no longer available (choosing an alternate).
  7. Prepare for the return home. Stock up on water, healthy snacks, chewing gum, suckers for the car. These items will help prevent blood sugar drops and can help children to work out anxiety they encountered during the day.
  8. Adjust traditional expectations. Some families are accustomed to doing homework before playing. However, children may need to work out stresses of the day and bring their cortisone levels down before being able to focus on homework. So, consider having a play time with good proprioceptive movement such as running, biking, swinging, and trampoline time. Then, follow this time with calming activities and take 10-20 minutes to reconnect with your child by talking with them about their day.
  9. Start limiting screen time. The lights and stimulation from screens can inhibit the ability to rest and learn, especially for children whose brains have been affected by trauma.

Lynn and Herbie discussed more practical actions that parents can take in light of a new school year, such as helping your child become accustomed to a new school or grade, advocating for your child, and working with teachers and schools to be more friendly to children from foster care and adoption. Listen to the full podcast here!

If you have questions or concerns and would like to talk with Lynn or another specialist at Lifeline, please call us at 205-967-0811 or email us here.