Adjusting to School is a Family Affair

Whether you are entering Pre-K or 8th grade, starting the school year requires a period of adjustment that often takes us by surprise.

School is such a part of the American life, we tend to take it for granted when actually the school routine has a life of its own. We all have our individual stories about the purpose of attending school. Some see it as “extended child’s play,” day care, life experience and “their job.” All of these are true in some combination. School is not home and home is not school, but to your child there is a thin veil of reality that separates the two.

Your child spends anywhere from 5-9 hours a day doing some kind of activity at school. It is their home away from home with adults they grow to trust and depend on for safety, nurturing, health, fun and food – and not necessarily in that order. No, education is not their priority. That’s why when you ask them what they learned or what was their favorite part of the day, they tell you lunch, recess or who they played with that day. The value of education is your priority, not theirs. Thank goodness for parents!

new environments require adjustment

When your child reaches the early ages of three, four and five and are in pre-school, they are making a definite jump from living with mom at home to living with a school teacher and ten or more other children their same age. There is a schedule, a set of expectations, a way of doing things, waiting while someone cries over the lost turn with a toy, not being first at the water fountain, eating new food, and all in a different environment.

E V E R Y T H I N G is different. And when they get home, you hear the emotional, embellished story of their day. They are looking to see how you respond to their stories, whether it’s a comedy, drama, or an action-packed experience.

adjusting to a new environment is a family affair

As adults we forget that new environments, new people and new situations create stress whether they are positive or negative. These are transitions, whether child or adult. Adults have usually been socialized out of paying much attention to their responses to changes. But we are all impacted by regular small changes to our routines. How we cope with these is key to how we experience our lives and our life experience. What feels negative to you may feel positive to another in response to the same situation.

The same is true for your children. Most children can hardly wait to get back to school and yet after the newness of the school year wears off, they are unhappy, grumpy, tearful, argumentative, hate school, have no friends and want to stay home. All normal. Or they develop headaches, stomach aches, stories about their teachers not liking them or that they are going to fail, not smart enough, etc. They are physically, emotionally and mentally tired from handling the many changes and transitions of the days. They fall asleep in the car on the way home. They fight getting ready for bed. They have meltdowns over the fact that you gave them the very thing they asked for. None of it makes sense. And that is because it is not logical. These are all ways of coping with stressful situations.

It will be most helpful if you are able to understand this period of adjustment is temporary for all of you and allow yourselves the time to scream and cry, while remembering that each year there are improvements. Compassion and grace are your best friends as the day comes to an end… and another begins.


Theresa Moore, LCSW, LPC / School Counselor 
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